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Foodborne illness: watch what you eat

Foodborne illness: watch what you eat

September 13, 2012

The Centers for Disease Control estimates that 48 million people in the U.S. get sick from food borne disease each year. Of that number 128,000 are hospitalized, and 3,000 die. Due to Hawaii’s popular outdoor lifestyle, residents and visitors here may face an even higher risk.

Exposed food is at a higher risk of contamination from airborne pathogens like bacteria when it is not properly refrigerated or heated, and from human or insect contact. According to the Department of Health, side dishes such as potato salad are the biggest culprits in transmitting harmful bacteria because they contain ingredients like mayonnaise that “go bad” when not refrigerated.

The DOH says that in Hawaii, cooked rice is often the cause of food borne illnesses. This is because of the cultural popularity of rice, spam musubi, chili and rice, and other such favorites. A simple rule to follow when picnicking is that hot foods should stay hot, and cold foods should stay cold. All food should remain covered to avoid contact with insects.

Another important safety measure to prevent food borne illness is to keep raw meats and their juices and cooked meats separated at all times. Containers used for raw meats should not be used to store cooked meats before they are washed. All utensils and surfaces used for cooking should be kept separated and never used for serving before being washed.

Obviously, it is important to wash your hands before and after handling any food. If no water is available, hygienic towelettes and hand wipes should be used. Food should never sit out for more than one hour when the temperature is above 90 degrees, something that is not unusual at a beach picnic or barbeque in Hawaii. Perishable foods that are left out for more than two hours at room temperature should be discarded after two hours.

All fruits and vegetables should be thoroughly washed, even packed items marked “washed” or “ready to eat”.

The most common food borne pathogens that cause illness is Campylobacter, which was identified in 578 food borne illness cases in 2009. This bacteria is most commonly found in undercooked chicken, and foods contaminated with the juices of uncooked chicken. As chicken is such a popular barbeque choice in Hawaii, residents and visitors should take special care when including it.

Symptoms of food borne illness include nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, and stomach cramps. Consult a physician if symptoms persist.

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