Foodborne illness, often called ‘food poisoning’, occurs when a person gets sick by eating food that has been contaminated with bacteria, parasites or viruses, also known as ‘microbes’ and ‘pathogens’.  Foodborne illness is the largest class of emerging infectious diseases.  This is due to the changing population demographics, changing patterns of food production and consumption and new, re-emerging or drug resistant disease agents.

Who is responsible for ensuring that the food we eat is safe?

Everyone involved in the food chain, from the primary producer to the consumer has a role to play in ensuring the safety of the food we eat.  The food industry and government work together to deliver food that is safe to consumers.  The important, and sometimes forgotten, role of the consumer is to maintain the safety of that food by using safe food handling practices.

How many cases of foodborne illness occur in Canada each year?

The most recent estimate is approximately 1 million cases each year.  However, as many as 96 to 99 percent of foodborne illness and deaths due to foodborne illness are not reported.  This is due to the fact that people often mistaken foodborne illness for the flu since many symptoms are similar: stomach pain, diarrhea, nausea, chills, fever, and headache.  Symptons of foodborne illness can appear anywhere from 30 minutes to 2 weeks after an individual has come in contact with foodborne bacteria, although it usually happens in the first 4 to 48 hours.  This delay makes it difficult to link an illness with a food-related cause.

FACTORS INVOLVED IN FOOD-BORNE ILLNESS

Sources of Contamination:

  • Unclean food
  • Unclean equipment and kitchen surfaces
  • Animals and pests
  • Improper sanitation of hands
  • Use of dirty towels or the same towels for drying hands and dishes
  • Unsafe thawing of frozen foods, especially meat, poultry and fish
  • Not thoroughly cooking foods (such as eggs, meat, poultry and fish)
  • Not keeping hot food hot, and cold food cold while serving
  • Not refrigerating leftovers within 2 hours

Transmission: Food-borne illness is spread by:

AIR          PEOPLE            EQUIPMENT            ANIMALS/PETS

Growth Enhancers:

  • F      – food (certain types)
  • A      – acidity (low acidity enhances the possibility)
  • T      – time (the longer the better)
  • T      – temperature (warmer temperatures enhance)
  • O      – oxygen (air is required)
  • M     – moisture

High Risk:

FOODS   – foods with a neutral pH – higher pH isn’t as risky

PEOPLE   – the elderly

– very young children

– people with weakened immune systems

PLACES   – nursing homes

– day care centres

– hospitals

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