Approximately 11 million cases of foodborne illness are found in Canada each year. Foodborne illness is commonly referred to as “food poisoning” and occurs after an individual eats food that is contaminated with germs including bacteria, viruses and parasites. Common culprits that make people sick are: Listeria, E. coli, Vibrio, and Salmonella. Common symptoms of food poisoning include: stomach cramps, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, headaches, sweating and/or fever. Symptoms usually begin within 72 hours after eating the contaminated food; however, symptoms, in some cases, can appear much quicker. While most people recover fully from food poisoning, some people do suffer more serious symptoms such as brain and blood infections. In some cases, food poisoning can even be fatal.
Individuals with compromised immune systems are at a greater risk of contracting foodborne illnesses. Patients that have weakened immune systems have a harder time fighting off infection caused by common bacteria. Therefore, they are more likely to become sick after eating contaminated food.
So, who is at risk?
Elderly people and children should take special care when dealing with food, as this category is especially at risk. But the following groups of individuals are also likely to have weakened immune systems and should use caution as well:
-Cancer – this risk is increased if the person is undergoing chemotherapy or radiation
-Organ transplant recipients
-Auto-immune diseases (i.e. Lupus)
If you are affected by any of these conditions, you should take extra precaution when buying, storing, preparing and cooking foods. Read on to learn tips to help prevent food poisoning:
-Keep your raw meat, poultry and seafood away from other food in your shopping cart
-Put raw meat, poultry and seafood in the small clear plastic bags provided
-Buy cold or frozen meat, poultry and seafood at the end of your shopping trip
-Pack raw meat, poultry and seafood separately from other food
-Wash reusable bags regularly and have separate, labeled bags for raw meat, poultry and seafood
-Your fridge temperature should be at 4°C (39°F) or lower and your freezer should be at -18°C (0.4 °F) or lower
-Always keep meat, poultry and seafood cold – refrigerate as soon as you get home from the grocery store
-Always store meat, poultry and seafood away from other food in your refrigerator, and use separate containers for storage in order to avoid cross-contamination
-Always cook raw meat, poultry and fish to a safe internal temperature (use of a digital thermometer is recommended)
-veal, beef, pork and lamb – 71°C (159°F) (medium)
- poultry – 74°C (165°F)(pieces) and 85°C (whole)
- ground beef, lamb, pork and/or lamb – 71°C (159°F)
- ground poultry – 74°C (165°F)
- egg dishes – 74°C (165°F)
- seafood, hotdogs, leftovers, etc. – 74°C (165°F)
-Always wash your hands thoroughly before and after touching raw meat
-Always clean kitchen surfaces, utensils and other cooking materials after use
-Clean or replace reusable bags regularly
In addition to the recommended safe handling and cooking of food mentioned above, it is recommended that individuals with a weakened immune system should avoid eating:
-Unpasteurized fruit juices and ciders
If a person with a weak immune system chooses to eat fruit and veggies, they should be cooked. However, if eaten raw, they should be washed and peeled, especially if grown in the ground. This reduces the chance of suffering from the nasty effects of food poisoning.
It is important for everyone, but especially for those with weak immune systems, to be careful when dealing with food, especially raw meat, poultry and fish. A little care can go a long way to prevent the unwanted symptoms of food poisoning!