How To Avoid Foodborne Illness

foodborne illness
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For anyone who has ever had foodborne illness you know how horrible it can make you feel and how you’ll never want to experience food poisoning again. I’ve had the illness a few times – once from eating contaminated scallops. Another time from eating contaminated strawberries. Each time it was an agonizing twenty-four hours. I hope you never have to experience such a similar feeling but the odds are stacked against you. Here are some tips on avoiding foodborne illness.

What Is Foot Borne Illness?

One in six americans, 250 different pathogens causing foodborne illness. Some of the most common types are salmonella, E. coli., and Norovirus. Salmonella is the leading killer when it comes to foodborne illness.

Food poisoning is caused from eating foods contaminated with certain pathogens such as bacteria, viruses, or parasites. Sometimes the bacteria itself can cause food poisoning. For example, salmonella is a common type of microbe responsible for producing food poisoning. Other times food poisoning isn’t caused by the bacteria itself by by the toxins that bacteria produces. E. Coli is a common type of toxin producing bacteria responsible for E. coli. Then there’s the parasites that you’ve heard about from watching creepy shows on The Learning Channel. You might have one of those if they come out in your stool or if you eat like a horse but can’t stop losing weight.

Symptoms Of Foodborne Illness

After a food contaminated with bacteria responsible for causing food poisoning the bacteria goes through an incubation period. The period of time can vary for this from hours to days. Once the threshold of bacteria or toxins increases, you start feeling sick. Your body welcomes this in with abdominal cramps, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea. Most of the time foodborne illness is realitively harmless other than making you feel horrible – but it does kill.

Do Your Really Have Foodborne Illness?

Nusea, vomiting, diarrhea, and abdominal cramps are very common syomptoms to multiple different illnesses. The only way to actually diagnose illness as related to foodborne illness is from a stool culture, analyzing your stool for parasites, or looking for certain genetic markers that indicate if a virus is present. Many people with food poisoning symptoms rarely go to the hospital and those that do rarely get testing for food poisoning. Because of this its estimated that actual cases of foodborne illness are MUCH higher than actually reported. Sometimes the symptoms of food poisoning can cause bleeding of the intestines and electrolyte imbalances which can cause seizures or irregular heart rhythms in extreme cases. If you notice any blood in stool or vomit – it’s always important to go to a hospital immediately.

Sources Of Foodborne Illness

Food contamination can happen in a plethora of ways – one of the most common was is when food becomes contaminated with feces. This can happen from a packaging plant when intestine contents from animals accidently cross paths with meat. It can also happen with produce when animal feces or water with sewage contacts your fruits and vegetables. The same goes for employees if they have feces on their hands and it comes across food.

Chickens happen to carry salmonella in their ovaries so it’s not uncommon for eggs or chickens to be infected with salmonella. Shellfish such as oysters, clams and muscles are bottom feeders and can contain bacteria in the meat simply from the diet that they can consume.

Avoiding Foodborne Illness


It goes without saying but clean your hands. Despite all the advances in healthcare, handwashing is the numbner one way to prevent illness. You never know what’s on your hands, so wash with warm water and soap for at least twenty seconds. Rinse your fruits and vegetables with running tap water for at least thirty seconds as well.

When it comes to your kitchen counters, use hot soapy water. I personally love using soft scrub (a bleaching agent) on cutting boards and my kitchen surfaces. Keep dish sponges separate from cleaning sponges. If you use a sponge, put it in the microwave or the hot process in the dishwasher to help kill bacteria.


Temperature is key – it’s recommended to use a food thermometor because food color means nothing when it comes to the internal temperature of food.

Pork, meats, and fish are recommended a internal cooking temperature of 145 degrees. Although I must admit – I’m a huge fan of raw fish and I never follow that rule.

Ground meats are associated with a higher risk for causing illness because of the grinding process. The cooking temperature for ground meats is recommended to reach a temperature of 160 degrees.

Storing Food:

Storing foods is just as important as cooking foods. When foods are kept in large quantities after cooking it can take several hours for foods to get to a safe temperature. To decrease the risk of bacteria growing on your food store foods in smaller containers to allow for quicker cooling. The best way to defrost food is through refrigeration, the microwave, or in cold water. Obviously, never let food sit out for longer than about an hour. The optimal “safe zone” for temperatures to keep food out of is between 40 degrees and 140 degrees. Freezing and refrigerating food doesn’t kill bacteria, it just slows the process.


Contamination is another huge issue. If you’re prepping meats, never prep them with the same utensils or surface. Keep fruits and vegetables seperate from meats as well. Obviously, never put cooked foods on a surface where raw foods were prepped.

Last of all, remember to wash your hands.

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1. Foodborne Illness, Foodborne Disease. Centers For Disease Control and Prevention. 2012. Web. 16 Feb. 2014.
2. Safe Food Handling. Partnership For Food Safety Education. 2010. Web. 16 Feb. 2014.


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