Speedy tracing of food poisoning can stop illness in its tracks

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By Jillian Briare and Kaylynn Perez

Have you ever gotten sick from something you ate? It may have been a foodborne illness, which is illness caused by food contaminated with bacteria, viruses, parasites, or toxins. Nearly 48 million people are affected by foodborne illnesses yearly! And can come from anything! Luckily, most instances do not turn into full outbreaks with product recalls due to their early detection. Foodborne illnesses are examined by health professionals. They hear reports, investigate, and collect data to find the source.
And there are 3 types of data used by professionals. 1. Epidemiologic data. This is the process of looking for patterns in outbreaks. This helps health professionals intheir investigations understand the severity, as well as issues in food sources or suppliers. to better understand foodborne illnesses, epidemiologic data is important.
2. Traceback. This is tracing what people ate, and finding a common point of contamination.
Food and Environment Testing: The act of testing food items for pathogens. In order to know what caused the illness, this must be done! This is done in the lab or behind the scenes at places where officials think there may be a spot for contamination.
Know what to look for and what to ask. Health professionals consider these things in their investigations. This can be seen more in depth in this real life investigation example below...
2015 Outbreak in Reno, Nevada. With numerous people becoming sick with similar symptoms, health officials stepped in for interviews. The illness? A consequence of E-Coli.
Traceback is especially important during outbreaks. This begins the investigation. Hospitals will let the health professionals know when multiple people have contracted similar food related illnesses. Between reported hospitalizations and people reporting their own sickness - health professionals are able to start their work. To trace the source, health professionals trust the memories of where people ate and what illness they have become sick with. They look at what illness they have (ie E-Coli) and where they may have contracted it from.
In their interviews, the sick recalled eating at the same restaurant. Health professionals then went in to investigate there. The menu was reviewed and samples of food were taken for testing to find a common germ! E-coli specifically! While investigating the restaurant, health professionals will try to trace the following things... 1. Where do their products come from? 2. How are their products received? 3. Who handled the products? Were they sick? 4. How was the product prepared? 5. What happened to the product after? Contamination can happen at any point! From production, processing, transportation, handling, to preparation.
It was found that the common restaurant received their desserts from another restaurant. This dessert was home to the E-Coli. How did this happen? Raw meat had been made in the dessert blender, making it perfect for E-Coli to thrive. This contaminated dessert was then served to customers. Tracing, testing, and collection are all important steps in finding the point of contamination. Epidemiology allows for a starting point - identifying a pattern in the sick people. Tracing allows for a common market, grocery store, or restaurant food item to be found. Testing food items, and products of the restaurants in the lab allow for the contamination to be found.
This can take weeks or even months, so it is important to make the public aware of these kinds of situation. And keep the public updated. All these steps protect communities from large outbreaks!
There are 4 steps to food safety - clean, separate, cook, chill. Wash your hands! Wash foods and surfaces. Do not use the same utensils for various foods. Separate storage spaces for raw and cooked food. Make sure food is cooked at the right temperature. A food thermometer helps! Use proper refrigeration. Thaw food correctly.
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