Foodborne outbreaks have been in the news a lot lately. Whether or not this is due to improvements in better detection or surveillance methods, illnesses caused by food borne disease can effect anyone who eats the contaminated food. Today, multi-state even multinational occurrences are not uncommon.

In today’s fast-paced society, according to the FDA “outbreaks are happening over longer periods of time and often occur in widely separated areas, making them difficult to detect. Added challenges are the increasing consumer demand for food that is less processed and the globalization of the food supply — making production/processing and distribution more complex — so that identifying the food source of an outbreak is more demanding.”

But how does food become unsafe in the first place? What measures can one take to keep food safe?

Causes of Food Borne Illness

Physical Causes: containers used for food storage, metal residue (ex: metal shavings left behind after cleaning a grill), or pieces of glass.

Biological Causes: Parasites, bacteria, viruses. The biggest threat to food safety is biological causes and can be inherent in the food from how the food is handled (for example, temperature) with bacteria and viruses being the most common cause for foodborne contamination.

Chemical Causes: Chemical contaminants, natural toxins. Certain foods have within them toxins that are part of their genetic makeup. Such as certain mushrooms or shellfish). Certain additives can be toxic to individuals that are allergic while certain cleaners and sanitizers that are not used as directed can cause chemical contamination.

Staying Safe: Preventing Food Borne Illnesses

Clean: Wash hands, surfaces and utensils often in hot soapy water and rinsing well to remove organisms and debris. Sanitize clean counter-tops before preparing food and clean counter-tops often between handling different types of food.

Keep Food Separate: In order to prevent cross contamination, when shopping, designate reusable shopping bags for specific grocery items. Don’t use reusable bags for raw meat products. Place raw meat items in individual plastic bags before placing them in reusable shopping bags. Wash and thoroughly dry reusable bags often.

In the fridge, store raw meats below ready to eat items. When thawing frozen raw meat, use a dripless container or a contained plastic bag. Don’t allow the juices from the thawing meat drip on other foods.

Cook: Cook foods properly and thoroughly.

Chill: Cold temperatures slow the growth of harmful bacteria and must circulate to help keep food safe. Be mindful of the amount of food stored in the refrigerator.

For more ways to staying safe in preventing foodborne illnesses check out:

Information from:

Causes and Prevention of Food borne Illness – University of Rhode Island Food Safety Education College of the Environment and Life Sciences

What You Should Know About Government Response to Food borne Illness Outbreaks US Food and Drug Administration