With at least 362 people in 21 states and Puerto Rico sickened by strains of salmonella (according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) in connection with chicken produced by Foster Farms, foodborne illness may be on your mind.
The CDC reports that 38% of these tainted chicken-consuming victims have been hospitalized and 14% have developed blood infections as a result of their illness. This is atypical, as normally only about 5% of people with salmonella infections develop blood infections.
Though Foster Farms has not yet initiated a recall, they are complying with U.S. Department of Agriculture’s requests to mitigate issues at three central California facilities tied to the outbreak. The products involved in the outbreak are identified by one of three USDA mark of inspection numbers: P6137, P6137A and P7632.
Although anyone can be adversely affected by food poisoning, some groups of people — particularly those with compromised immune systems — are more susceptible to foodborne illness than others. Not only do high risk individuals have a greater chance of getting sick from contaminated food, but if they do get sick, the impact on their health is much more severe.
There are over 250 unique strands of foodborne infection. Norovirus is the most common in Minnesota and in the United States at large.
WHO IS MOST VULNERABLE?
People that suffer from chronic disease such as cancer, AIDS, diabetes, and lupus have a weakened immune system. In addition to the disease itself, the treatments these people receive for their illness can also lower their immunity. Uncommon but dangerous for people suffering from liver disease, Vibrio vulnificus is a microbe found in oysters. If you suffer from liver disease, the CDC recommends avoiding eating raw oysters altogether.
Likewise, transplant recipients are at risk because they are given drugs to prevent their body from rejecting a new organ. These drugs can reduce their body’s ability to combat dangerous microorganisms in contaminated food.
Aging lowers our immunity — our organs become less effective in detecting and eradicating the microorganisms that lead to foodborne infection. Contracting a foodborne illness for an older person presents a serious, and potentially deadly, risk.
Pregnancy also compromises the body’s immune system making hazardous microorganisms such as Listeria difficult to fight off. Not only does a pregnant woman have to fear for her own safety, but she also has to be aware of how foodborne illness could affect her unborn child. Still developing, the baby’s immune system is not ready to combat dangerous bacteria. Also, toxins such as mercury found in tuna, can damage the baby’s developing nervous system.
Salmonella infections are particularly dangerous to infants who are bottle fed. A bottle of warm formula that is left at room temperature for many hours, or one that has not been cleaned properly are ideal environments for the bacteria to grow. Be sure to properly clean and disinfect your baby’s bottles and that there is no leftover milk or juice inside before refills.
FOOD GUIDELINES FOR THOSE AT HIGH RISK
Soft cheeses such as Camembert, Brie, feta, and Mexican style cheeses such as queso blanco or queso fresco — any
Deli meat and hot dogs
Uncooked or undercooked eggs
Uncooked sprouts, such as such as bean sprouts, radish sprouts, and alfalfa sprouts
Raw or undercooked bivalve shellfish, such as clams, oysters, mussels, and scallops
Unpasteurized juice and cider
Be careful of:
Raw meats and seafood, such as chicken and turkey, beef, pork, fish, and shellfish. These need to be properly cooked to the correct temperature to be safely ingested.
It is preferable to eat cooked fruits and vegetables. If eating them raw be sure to wash them thoroughly with clean water and peel them if possible.
Risk factors leading to food contamination, according to the CDC, are improper hot/cold resting temperatures of potentially dangerous food, improper cooking temperatures, contaminated utensils and equipment, poor employee health and hygiene, and food from unsafe sources. For a detailed overview of proper food handling and safety precautions see the Minnesota Department of Health.