Weve probably all experienced it at some point in our life some of us in the last year or even week. Its that feeling in the pit of your stomach followed by disquieting physical confirmation: food poisoning, or as we affectionately refer to it at the health department, food-borne illness.
If you had one such encounter last year, you joined 76 million others who were sick, with well over a quarter of million people needing to be hospitalized. A Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Vital Signs report will be released next week examining just how common, costly and preventable food-borne illness is.
Food-borne illnesses result from eating contaminated food. Harmful bacteria are the most common cause, but other causes include viruses, parasites, toxins and contaminants.
Symptoms occur about 18 hours after, but can vary between six hours to three days, said Marian Schaub, food-safety specialist for San Juan Basin Health Department. Most people blame the last thing they ate. But thats hardly ever the case.
We investigate about 50 complaints per year. Most of these cant be confirmed, though, because people did not seek medical care or there was no test.
Yet, Schaub still follows up with the food establishment the person thinks caused it.
We check to see if there are the controls in place to maintain proper food temperature, clean facilities and good hygienic practices, Schaub said.
While no one ever thinks their bout of food poisoning occurred at home, the likelihood is fairly high, Schaub said. That could mean leaving take-out in a car too long, improper home refrigeration or cooking temperatures, or just not having sanitized kitchen items including sinks, cutting boards, utensils and microwave. Bleach (following instructions on bottle) is Schaubs recommended method.
Food safety touches everyone, and everyone is responsible. San Juan Basin Health partners with local food establishments in ensuring safe food. Each year, we inspect about 800 restaurants, school cafeterias, summer camps, child care centers, take-out service counters, anybody that serves food to the public in La Plata, Archuleta and San Juan counties. These visits provide opportunities to educate food handlers and managers about the fine points of food safety. Additionally, the Environmental Health division trains 100 to 150 people each year. We provide a national certification course for professional food-service workers and shorter, refresher classes throughout the year.
The Herald is a partner as well by publishing the monthly reports in the paper.
Consumers like the column a lot, and it has been effective in improving safety compliances, says Schaub. Everybody understands the value food-safety practices bring to their business.
Schaub initiated a Partners in Food Safety program last year to provide local food-service managers and owners with direct access to the regional FDA specialist. At these meetings, they get the latest detailed information about food safety techniques and improvements.
Everyone benefits when we all do our part in keeping food safe. For more resources and information, visit foodsafety.gov.
Jane Looney is the communications director for the San Juan Basin Health Department.