Chapter 2. Guidelines for Health Eating
Foodborne Illness and Food Safety
Foodborne illness is a serious threat to health. Sometimes called “food poisoning,” foodborne illness is a common public health problem that can result from exposure to a pathogen or a toxin via food or beverages. Raw foods, such as seafood, produce, and meats, can all be contaminated during harvest (or slaughter for meats), processing, packaging, or during distribution, though meat and poultry are the most common source of foodborne illness. For all kinds of food, contamination also can occur during preparation and cooking in a home kitchen or in a restaurant. For example in 2009, the Marshall Islands reported 174 cases presenting with vomiting and diarrhea. After an epidemiological investigation was completed, they identified the cause to be egg sandwiches that had been left at room temperature too long resulting in the growth of foodborne toxins in the egg sandwiches.
In many developing nations, contaminated water is also a major source of foodborne illness. Many people are affected by foodborne illness each year, making food safety a very important issue. Annually, one out of eight Canadians becomes sick after consuming contaminated foods or beverages. Foodborne illness can range from mild stomach upset to severe symptoms, or even fatalities. The problem of food contamination can not only be dangerous to your health, it can also be harmful to your wallet. Medical costs and lost wages due to salmonellosis, just one foodborne disease, are estimated at over $1 billion per year.
Groups At-Risk of Foodborne Illness
No one is immune from consuming contaminated food but, whether you become seriously ill depends on the microorganism, the amount you have consumed, and your overall health. In addition, some groups have a higher risk than others for developing severe complications to foodborne disease. Who is most at risk? Young children, elderly people, and pregnant women all have a higher chance of becoming very sick after consuming contaminated food. Other high-risk groups include people with compromised immune systems due to HIV/AIDS, immunosuppressive medications (such as after an organ transplant), and long-term steroid use for asthma or arthritis. Exposure to contaminated food could also pose problems for diabetics, cancer patients, people who have liver disease, and people who have stomach problems as a result of low stomach acid or previous stomach surgery. People in all of these groups should handle food carefully, make sure that what they eat has been cooked thoroughly, and avoid taking any chances that could lead to exposure.
Food Safety in the Food Industry
The Hazard Analysis Critical Control Points (HACCP) is a program within the food industry designed to promote food safety and prevent contamination by identifying all areas in food production and retail where contamination could occur. Companies and retailers determine the points during processing, packaging, shipping, or shelving where potential contamination may occur.. Those companies or retailers must then establish critical control points to prevent, control, or eliminate the potential for food contamination. The Canadian Food Inspection Agency supports the food industry to follow HACCP to ensure the safety of food in various sectors.
The Seven Steps to HACCP:
- Conduct a hazard analysis: The manufacturer must first determine any food safety hazards (ex. biological, chemicals, or physical) and identify preventative measures to control the hazards.
- Identify the critical control points: Critical control point (CCP) is a point or procedure in food manufacturing where control can be applied to prevent or eliminate food hazards that may cause the food to be unsafe.
- Establish critical limits: A critical limit is the maximum or minimum value that a food hazard must be controlled at a CCP to prevent, eliminate or reduce it to an acceptable level.
- Establish monitoring requirements: The manufacture must establish procedures to monitor the control points to ensure the process is under control and not above the CCP.
- Establish corrective actions: Corrective actions are needed when monitoring indicates a deviation from the established critical limit to ensure that no produce injurious to health has occurred as a result of the deviation.
- Establish verification procedures: Verification ensures that the HACCP plan is adequate with CCP records, critical limits and microbial sampling and analysis.
- Record keeping procedure: The manufacturer must maintain certain documents including its hazard analysis, HACCP plan, and records monitoring the CCP, critical limits, and the verification of handling processed deviations.
For more information on the HACCP visit https://www.fsis.usda.gov/Oa/background/keyhaccp.htm.
Food Safety at the Consumer Level: What You Can Do
Consumers can also take steps to prevent foodborne illness and protect their health. Although you can often detect when mold is present, you can’t see, smell, or taste bacteria or other agents of foodborne disease. Therefore, it is crucial to take measures to protect yourself from disease. The four most important steps for handling, preparing, and serving food are:
- Clean. Wash hands thoroughly. Clean surfaces often and wash utensils after each use. Wash fruits and vegetables (even if you plan to peel them).
- Separate. Don’t cross-contaminate food during preparation and storage. Use separate cutting boards for produce and for meat, poultry, seafood, and eggs. Store food products separately in the refrigerator.
- Cook. Heat food to proper temperatures. Use a food thermometer to check the temperature of food while it is cooking. Keep food hot after it has been cooked.
- Chill. Refrigerate any leftovers within two hours. Never thaw or marinate food on the counter.
Know when to keep food and when to throw it out. It can be helpful to check the website http://www.stilltasty.com, which explains how long refrigerated food remains fresh.
It is best to buy your food from reputable grocers with clean, sanitary facilities, that keep products at appropriate temperatures. Consumers should examine food carefully before they purchase it. It is important to look at food in glass jars, check the stems on fresh produce, and avoid bruised fruit. Do not buy canned goods with dents or bulges, which are at risk for contamination with Clostridium botulinum. Fresh meat and poultry are usually free from mold, but cured and cooked meats should be examined carefully. Also, avoid torn, crushed, or open food packages, and do not buy food with frost or ice crystals, which indicates that the product has been stored for a long time, or thawed and refrozen. It is also a good idea to keep meat, poultry, seafood, and eggs separate from other items in your shopping cart as you move through the grocery store.
Refrigerate perishable foods quickly; they should not be left out for more than two hours. The refrigerator should be kept at 40°F (or 4°C) or colder, and checked periodically with a thermometer. Store eggs in a carton on a shelf in the refrigerator, and not on the refrigerator door where the temperature is warmest. Wrap meat packages tightly and store them at the bottom of the refrigerator, so juices won’t leak out onto other foods. Raw meat, poultry, and seafood should be kept in a refrigerator for only two days. Otherwise, they should be stored in the freezer, which should be kept at 0°F (or −18°C). Store potatoes and onions in a cool, dark place, but not under a sink because leakage from pipes could contaminate them. Empty cans of perishable foods or beverages that have been opened into containers, and promptly place them in a refrigerator. Also, be sure to consume leftovers within three to five days, so mold does not have a chance to grow.
Wash hands thoroughly with warm, soapy water for at least twenty seconds before preparing food and every time after handling raw foods. Washing hands is important for many reasons. One is to prevent cross-contamination between foods. Also, some pathogens can be passed from person to person, so hand washing can help to prevent this. Fresh fruits and vegetables should also be rinsed thoroughly under running water to clean off pesticide residue.
This is particularly important for produce that contains a high level of residue, such as apples, pears, spinach, and potatoes. Washing also removes most dirt and bacteria from the surface of produce.
Other tips to keep foods safe during preparation include defrosting meat, poultry, and seafood in the refrigerator, microwave, or in a water-tight plastic bag submerged in cold water. Never defrost at room temperature because that is an ideal temperature for bacteria to grow. Also, marinate foods in the refrigerator and discard leftover marinade after use because it contains raw juices. Always use clean cutting boards, which should be washed with soap and warm water by hand or in a dishwasher after each use. Another way to sanitize cutting boards is to rinse them with a solution of 5 milliliters (1 teaspoon) chlorine bleach to about 1 liter (1 quart) of water. If possible, use separate cutting boards for fresh produce and for raw meat. Also, wash the top before opening canned foods to prevent dirt from coming into contact with food.
Cooked food is safe to eat only after it has been heated to an internal temperature that is high enough to kill bacteria. You cannot judge the state of “cooked” by color and texture alone. Instead, use a food thermometer to be sure. The appropriate minimum cooking temperature varies depending on the type of food. Seafood should be cooked to an internal temperature of 63°C (145°F), beef, lamb, and pork to 71°C (160°F), ground chicken and turkey to 74°C (165°F), poultry breasts to 74°C (165°F), and whole poultry and thighs to 85°C (180°F). When microwaving, rotate the dish and stir contents several times to ensure even cooking.
After food has been cooked, the possibility of bacterial growth increases as the temperature drops. So, food should be kept above the safe temperature of 60°C (140°F), using a heat source such as a chafing dish, warming tray, or slow cooker. Cold foods should be kept at 4°C (40°F) or lower. When serving food, keep it covered to block exposure to any mold spores hanging in the air. Use plastic wrap to cover foods that you want to remain moist, such as fresh fruits, vegetables, and salads. After a meal, do not keep leftovers at room temperature for more than two hours. They should be refrigerated as promptly as possible. It is also helpful to date leftovers, so they can be used within a safe time, which is generally three to five days when stored in a refrigerator.
- Thein CC, Trinidad RM, Pavlin B. A Large Foodborne Outbreak on a Small Pacific Island. Pacific Health Dialogue. 2010, 16(1). https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/20968238. Accessed January 28, 2018. ↵
- Yearly food-borne illness estimates for Canada. Canadian Food Inspection Agency. https://www.canada.ca/en/public-health/services/food-borne-illness-canada/yearly-food-borne-illness-estimates-canada.html Updated July 5, 2016. Accessed June 28, 2019. ↵
- US Department of Health and Human Services. “Keep Food Safe.” Food Safety.gov. Accessed December 21, 2011. http://www.foodsafety.gov/keep/index.html. ↵
- California Department of Pesticide Regulation. “Pesticides and Food: How We Test for Safety.” Pesticide Info: What You Should Know about Pesticides, no. #E09/REV. Accessed December 21, 2011. http://www.cdpr.ca.gov/docs/dept/factshts/residu2.pdf. ↵