No Recovery, You Owe Us Nothing
Even when we read about the salmonella outbreak linked to eggs that sickened 1,300 people, or 826,000 pounds of contaminated ground beef that was recalled in 12 states, or the E. coli epidemic traced to California spinach that spread to 26 states… we don’t think this can happen to us – not in the United States.
But food-borne illnesses can, and do, strike millions of Americans each year. Here are some startling facts about the impact of contaminated food on consumers and their families.
Responding to these startling statistics and vigorous lobbying by consumer organizations, Congress passed the Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA) at the end of 2010, and it was signed into law by President Obama January 4, 2011.
A major purpose of the Food Safety Modernization Act is to give the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) the power to focus on prevention rather than too-little-too-late reaction to food safety problems. The law gives the FDA new enforcement powers and new tools for:
Why was the passage of the Food Safety Modernization Act so important? Read on.
The most vulnerable to food-borne sicknesses are young children, pregnant women, and the elderly. But, in truth, no one is immune. That’s because the most common carriers are poultry, beef, and leafy greens… perhaps the most popular dishes on restaurant menus and kitchen tables.
Poultry accounts for 17% of incidents of food poisoning; beef accounts for 16%; and leafy greens cause 14% of outbreaks. But recent food-borne-illness outbreaks in the U.S. include a bacterial buffet of snacks and main dishes, including eggs, salami and sausage products, pistachios, peanuts and peanut products, peppers and spinach.
Here’s how disease-causing bacteria, called pathogens, wend their way from farms and processing plants to our markets and homes.
When traced to their source, many of our food products come from once-live animals, such as chickens or cattle. Animals used for food may have ingested tainted feed, or been infected by fecal matter containing e.coli. Some forms of bacteria may have been picked up in the slaughter house or the food processing plant. In any case, raw meat, poultry, seafood and eggs are not sterile – so they are the first suspects when symptoms of food-borne illness appear.
In the same sense, fresh fruits and vegetables such as melons, lettuce, tomatoes, and sprouts are subject to many kinds of bacteria as they are grown. And regardless of what the packaging says, most of them are not washed – much less sterile.
Raw foods are not the only culprits, however. According to the Food Safety and Inspection Service of the U.S. Department of Agriculture, even foods that have been cooked and marketed as “ready to eat” can become cross-contaminated. Bacteria are transferred easily from raw products, meat juices, or other tainted sources – or by food handlers who have not washed their hands.
CDC analyses indicate that while no cause is ever found for about a third of outbreaks, the most prevalent causes of food-borne diseases are salmonella and norovirus. Salmonella contamination is often caused by rodents in packaging and distribution facilities, while norovirus sneaks into food products when workers don’t wash their hands.
Here are the pathogens on the USDA’s list of outlaws.
(Source: Food Safety and Inspection Service, U.S. Department of Agriculture.)
|Campylobacter Jejuni||Found in intestinal tracts of animals, birds; raw milk; untreated water, sewage. Can result from undercooked or raw meat, poultry or shellfish. CDC reports no decrease in incidents over the past three years.||Fever, headache, muscle pain, nausea, abdominal pain, diarrhea|
|Clostridium Botulinum||In soil, water, plants, animal and fish intestinal tracts. Toxin found in canned foods, garlic in oil, tightly-wrapped and vacuum-packed foods.||Attacks the nervous system: double vision, droopy eyelids, trouble speaking, swallowing, or breathing.|
|Clostridium Perfringens||In soil, dust, sewage, animal and human intestinal tracts. Called “cafeteria germ” because occurs when food is left out at room temperature or on steam tables.||Diarrhea, gas pains after eating; usually lasting about a day.|
|Escherichia coli (e. coli 0157:H7)||One of strains of e. coli that causes human illness; in intestinal tracts of mammals, raw milk, unchlorinated water. Found in raw or rare ground beef, contaminated water, unpasteurized apple juice/cider, uncooked fruits/vegetables. Sometimes spread person-to-person.||Diarrhea, abdominal cramps, nausea, malaise; young children, especially boys, can develop hemolyticuremic syndrome (HUS) that can lead to kidney failure and even death.|
|Listeria Monocytogenes||From intestinal tracts of humans, animals; milk; soil; leafy vegetables. Can grow slowly even when foods are at refrigerator temperature. Linked with ready-to-eat meat and poultry products and unpasteurized cheese and milk. CDC says this pathogen is responsible for highest percent of hospitilizations, deaths in U.S.||Fever, chills, headache, backache, abdominal pain, diarrhea. More serious in newborns, the elderly, those with weakened immune systems. In pregnant women, can cause miscarriage or stillbirth.|
|Salmonella||In intestinal tracts and feces of animals. One form is found in eggs. Illness comes from raw or undercooked eggs, poultry, meat, seafood; raw milk; food handlers with poor hygiene.||Diarrhea, stomach pain, nausea, fever, chills, headache.|
|Shigella||Found in human intestinal tract, but not likely in animals. Spread person-to-person, or by fecal contamination of food prepared by workers who have not washed hands.||Bloody diarrhea, abdominal cramps, fever, vomiting, chills.|
|Staphylococcus Aureus||On human skin, noses, throats; in pimples, infected cuts. Toxin causing illness multiples quickly at room temperature. Mostly spread person-to-person through improper food handling.||Severe nausea, abdominal cramps, vomiting, diarrhea. Lasts 2-3 days, longer when severe dehydration occurs.|
If you or a family member becomes ill from a food-borne pathogen, you should seek medical treatment if the symptoms are severe or persistent. If anyone who is ill is in a high-risk group – a pregnant woman, a baby, an elderly person or one whose immune system has been compromised – call the doctor immediately.
Make sure you save evidence so that the source of the food-borne illness can be traced. For example, save a portion of the suspected food item, wrap it securely, label it, and put it in the freezer so you can provide it to authorities or medical personnel. Be sure to save cans, cartons, and packaging materials, as well.
You can prevent multiple illnesses, and even save lives, by calling your local health department if you think the illness stems from a cafeteria, restaurant, or catered event, or from a product you purchased at a grocery or convenience store. If you have identified the source as a USDA-inspected product, also call the USDA Meat and Poultry Hotline.
BEFORE one of these tricky food-borne pathogens strikes your family, here are some simple steps you can take to prevent them. The most important rule is, keep cold food cold and hot food hot.
|Beef, veal; lamb steaks, roasts, chops||145 degrees F.|
|All cuts of pork||160 degrees F.|
|Ground beef, veal, lamb||160 degrees F.|
|All poultry||165 degrees F.|
You may want to use a meat thermometer to make sure meat and poultry have achieved recommended internal temperatures. Cooked food should be maintained at a temperature of 140 degrees F., and reheated, if necessary, to 165 degrees F.
School lunches can pose a special threat to your children’s food safety. If your child takes a bag lunch to school – or if you or another family member takes a bag lunch to work – you should be especially cautious about keeping perishable foods cold during the commute and after arrival at school or work.
We know that the very young are especially vulnerable to food-borne diseases and that when these illnesses strike, they can be more severe in children. Most private and public school systems adhere to strict rules about food storage and service.
These days, parents, teachers, and administrators have access to a great deal of information about allergic reactions, and children are warned not to share their food. But, despite everything we have read and heard about food safety, most bag lunches are slapped together in the haste of getting ready for work or school.
Most of the guidelines for packing a safe bag lunch are merely common sense:
By being cautious about food safety, you and your family can avoid contracting dangerous food-borne illnesses. But many times, food safety is out of your control.
If a family member should die, or you or a family member becomes catastrophically ill, from a contaminated food product, attorneys at Searcy Denney Scarola Barnhart & Shipley can help you sort out your options for justice. If you would like to learn more about how we can help, please fill out our contact form or call us at 1-800-780-8607 for a free confidential consultation.