While it may seem like there’s a new food recall issued every other day, a recent report by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) confirms that those recalls aren’t necessarily the most important thing we should be worrying about when it comes to avoiding foodborne illness. In fact, there are certain food items that are much riskier than the occasional packaged salad contamination that we hear of every so often.
According to the newly released report—which studied the causes of foodborne disease outbreaks between 2009 and 2015—the CDC found that 5,760 outbreaks in the U.S. caused a total of 100,939 illnesses, 5,699 hospitalizations, and 145 deaths. As the report confirms, the food categories that were most often accountable for outbreaks were a few of the most common diet essentials that most of us have all the time. For example, fish was responsible for 17 percent of all outbreaks while dairy and chicken caused 11 percent and 10 percent of outbreaks respectively. However, the food categories responsible for the most outbreak-associated illnesses were chicken (12 percent), pork (10 percent) and seeded vegetables (10 percent).
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Now, it’s important to note that a foodborne illness outbreak isn’t the same as when you get sick after eating yogurt that’s been left out of the fridge for too long. An outbreak is defined as “an incident in which two or more persons experience a similar illness after the ingestion of a common food,” usually after the food has been contaminated by other means (think infected animals or laboratory accidents).
Unfortunately, this report is further proof that foodborne disease outbreaks are still a serious issue in the United States. While most of the outbreaks recounted weren’t too serious, others could be life-threatening. Luckily, the most common foodborne illnesses was norovirus, which was accountable for 38 percent of cases and is relatively easy to treat due it’s classic food poisoning symptoms. On the other hand, salmonella—which was responsible for 30 percent of cases— can result in much more serious consequences, even leading to possible hospitalization.
In order to protect yourself from getting sick, it’s best to follow safe cooking habits at home. Actions like washing your hands before preparing food, thoroughly cleaning produce, and keeping raw meat away from ready-made foods (like veggies!) can greatly decrease your risk of contracting or spreading a foodborne illness. While these habits might seem minor, they certainly have a major impact on public health!