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Foodborne Disease Epidemic

Food-related disease kills millions of people throughout the world every year.  More than 200 diseases are known to be spread through food.  This alarming fact has caused food safety to become a major public health priority.  Serious outbreaks of foodborne disease have been documented on every continent in the past decade according to the World Health Organization (WHO).  

Diarrheal diseases alone will kill an estimated 1.5 million children in low-to-middle income countries.   Most of these illnesses are attributed to contaminated food or water. Proper food handling and preparation can prevent most foodborne diseases.

New diseases tied to food

According to WHO, about 75% of the new infectious diseases affecting humans over the past 10 years were caused by bacteria, viruses and other pathogens that started in animals and animal products.  A critical evaluation is underway to improve the standards from slaughter houses to food markets.  The most common foods at risk include fresh fruits, vegetables, fish, meats and poultry.

Importing contaminated food and ingredients is a growing concern with the globalization of food production and trade.  Disease-causing organisms in the food are being transmitted far and wide by today's interconnected global food-chains. 

Food contaminated with chemicals

Acrylamide, which has been found to cause cancer, is formed by cooking certain foods at high temperatures (generally above 120 °C), including fried potato products, baked cereal products and coffee.  It is important to avoid overcooking when frying, grilling or baking food.

Food colorings, preservatives and other artificially added substances may pose serious health consequences.  Many chemicals and additives are used to alter the taste, look and shelf life of many of our favorite foods.  One could eliminate hidden-chemical dangers entirely by implementing a natural-based diet.

Buying tips – meats 

It may sound obvious, but if it smells bad, don’t buy it.  Anything that smells rancid is an important foodborne illness indicator.  When you purchase meats, it is important to keep them separated from other foods. Fresh meat should also be firm, not tough or soft. Anything too tough or soft is an indication that it has been sitting on the shelf too long.

Preparation tips – meats 

Only handle meats with clean hands.  One of the most common causes of foodborne illness is handling meat and produce without washing your hands in between.  It is important to cook thoroughly (until meat is 70 °C in all parts, with no pink areas).

Buying tips – produce 

Only purchase produce that is not bruised or damaged.  Any type of damage can be an indication of poor handling and other high risk dangers. Bag fresh fruits and vegetables separately from meat, poultry and seafood products. When selecting fresh-cut produce - such as fruits or bagged salad greens - choose items that are refrigerated or surrounded by ice.

Preparation tips – produce

Always begin by washing your hands with warm water and soap.   Wash fruits and vegetables with purified water just before eating, cutting or cooking.  Food items that have an outer peal are generally safer than those without.  

Five keys to food safety

WHO and Member States are promoting the benefits of food safety, healthy diets and physical activity. The five keys to safer food are:
  1. keep clean
  2. separate raw and cooked
  3. cook all foods thoroughly
  4. keep food at safe temperatures
  5. use safe water and raw materials.
WHO is actively working to minimize health risks from farm to table, prevent outbreaks and to promote the five keys to food safety.  Reducing food-related disease starts with how one handles and prepares foods.  

Dr. Cory Couillard is an international healthcare speaker and columnist for numerous newspapers, magazines, websites and publications throughout the world. He works in collaboration with the World Health Organization's goals of disease prevention and global healthcare education. Views do not necessarily reflect endorsement.

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Twitter: DrCoryCouillard


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