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April 2013

Say 'No' to Foodborne Illness

You probably wouldn't consider a fresh spinach salad bad for your health. After all, spinach is packed with nutrients like fiber and potassium. But a recent government report found that such leafy green vegetables are the most common culprits of foodborne illnesses in the U.S. Don't toss out that salad just yet, though. You can do a lot to prevent food poisoning.

Photo of fish and salad on a plate

Facts about foodborne illnesses

More than 48 million Americans suffer a bout of food poisoning every year. A foodborne illness can occur when you eat food that contains harmful bacteria, viruses, parasites, or chemicals. These contaminants can cause symptoms like vomiting, diarrhea, and abdominal pain. Some of the most well-known disease-causing contaminants, or pathogens, include Salmonella, norovirus, and Escherichia coli, or E. coli.

Along with leafy green vegetables, food items that are more likely to be contaminated include dairy products, fruits, nuts, and poultry. Food can become tainted at any point from the farm to your kitchen table. For instance, a virus may infect your store-bought tuna sandwich because the person who prepared it was sick and didn't properly wash his or her hands. Or bacteria such as Salmonella may flourish on a chicken breast because you didn't cook the meat thoroughly.

Most people recover from a foodborne illness without any lasting problems. But eating tainted food can be deadly. The most lethal: contaminated meat, particularly poultry. It accounted for the most food-illness-related deaths in the U.S. from 1998 to 2008.

The fundamentals of food safety

Food poisoning can affect anyone. But children, older adults, and pregnant women are most at risk. To keep everyone at your kitchen table healthy, follow these simple preparation steps every time you cook:

  • Always wash your hands properly before handling any food. Learn how here.

  • After preparing each food item, be sure to wash all utensils, cutting boards, and counters with hot, soapy water. Wipe surfaces dry with a paper towel. If you use a fabric towel, wash it often in hot water.

  • Wash produce before cutting or peeling. Simply rinse it under running water and then dry with a clean towel. You can use a produce brush on firmer-skinned fruits or veggies. Don't leave cut-up produce at room temperature for long.

  • Avoid rinsing raw meats such as poultry or pork. You can easily spread bacteria or other contaminants through splashed water.

  • Don't thaw food on a counter top. Once food reaches room temperature, pathogens can quickly grow. Instead, use the refrigerator or microwave.

  • Designate a different cutting board for raw meats and fresh produce. And never place cooked meat on an unwashed board or plate that previously held raw meat.

  • Cook food until it is completely done: 145⁰ F (63⁰ C) for meats such as roasts, steaks, and pork chops; 160⁰ F (71⁰ C) for ground meats; and 165⁰ F (74⁰ C) for poultry. Use a thermometer to confirm the temperature.

  • When eating out, check if the restaurant has passed safety inspections. And order foods like hamburgers well done.

Always talk with your health care provider to find out more information.


Find more helpful tips to prevent foodborne illnesses at www.FoodSafety.gov. Also test your knowledge about food poisoning with this quiz


Online Resources

CDC - Food Safety

National Digestive Diseases Information Clearinghouse - Foodborne Illnesses

U.S. Department of Health and Human Services