Goodbye Winter. Hello Spring!:
Winter has passed, and Spring is in the air. Northerners are finally able to venture out of their snow-blocked homes, and become road warriors or mass transit travelers. Hotels, amusement parks and other recreational events are preparing for their deluge of “spring fever” crowds and vacationers, as spring breeds a plethora of outdoor activities.
Time away from home also means eating out more: at airports, hotels, restaurants, community events, hospital cafeterias, and other places where food can be readily obtained. Unfortunately, this increase in dining out also leads to an increase in foodborne diseases/illnesses – which continue to play a major role in nationwide outbreaks.
The Centers for Disease Control estimates that 1 in 6 Americans get sick from contaminated foods or beverages. In the U.S., 48 million people are sickened from a foodborne illness. Of those sickened, 128,000 are hospitalized, and 3,000 die1. Staggering statistics when you think about how often people dine out.
And, the most current prevalent contamination outbreaks2 are those with increased activity:
- Norovirus sp.
- Campylobacter sp.
- Staphylococcus sp.
- Escherichia Coli (E. coli)
All four of these organisms can be passed by contaminated hands of food handlers and/or from contaminated surfaces.
Food preparation and handling should be performed much like a surgical team: Always prepare for accidental contamination:
Contaminated or potentially contaminated surfaces, as well as utensils, must be cleaned and sanitized after every use and whenever there is suspected contamination. If gloves are used, they must be removed and disposed. Hands must be washed, and then covered with new gloves, especially if there is suspected contamination. Food service employees should also prevent cross-contamination of “ready-to-eat-food” by properly using suitable methods or utensils for handling. Additionally, a newly updated FDA rule stresses the importance for consumers to use clean tableware each time he/she returns to a self-service area, such as a salad bar or buffet.
There are simple methods for prevention:
- Cleaning agents and sanitizers should be readily available and easily accessible, even when they are not in use.
- All surfaces that are touched by the consumer within an eating area (i.e. tables, menus, touchscreens, etc.) should also be cleaned and sanitized or disinfected after each use.
- Consider an easy method for consumers to maintain proper hand hygiene by washing their hands whenever necessary by using an alcohol-based hand wipe, when water and soap are not available.
Foodborne illnesses are common public health problems. The goal is not only to stop an outbreak once it occurs, but to PREVENT it from occurring. This can be accomplished with improved practices in industry, stronger regulations by U.S. regulatory agencies, and better consumer understanding, all of which can help reduce the number of foodborne illnesses occurring nationwide3.