Health Implications from Environmental or Biological
England is the division director of environmental health at the Erie County Health Department.
Daily intake of food and water are essential to sustaining life. The conditions or environment where food products are produced, stored and prepared can dramatically impact your health and your potential for food-borne illness.
Common bacterial infections and intoxications, such as campylobacter, salmonella, E. coli 0157 H7 and Norwalk or norovvirus can occur naturally on or contaminate the foods we prepare and eat in our homes.
Washing your hands in warm water with soap for 21 seconds before handling foods and after handling raw food products is one the primary mechanisms for preventing food-borne illness. Individuals with lower GI tract infections may have fecal contaminants on their hands and under their nails, which may be passed onto food and consumed by others. Preparing food for others while sick is a risk and should always be discouraged.
Unfortunately, mistakes made in the kitchen when preparing food can significantly increase the risk of food-related illness.
Raw food items, such as beef, poultry, fish and eggs used as recipe ingredients contain bacterial toxins and infections, which if ingested may cause severe illness.
Fruits and vegetables that are not cooked and are cut or prepared on the same surface after raw animal products may be contaminated by the same bacteria naturally occurring on or within the animal.
You can protect yourself by preparing all raw animal products separately from foods which are not cooked as part of the preparation process. All contact surfaces used for preparing food should also be sanitized with a low concentration bleach solution before and after use.
Risk of food-borne illness also increases when individuals consume raw or undercooked chicken, beef, pork and seafood. Raw animal products if cooked to an internal temperature of at 165 degrees, and once fully cooked held hot at 140 or above, will reduce the potential of food-borne illness. Properly calibrated metal stemmed thermometers are ideal for this task.
All eggs sold within the United State may potentially be contaminated with salmonella bacteria. Eggs that are served with runny yolks increase the risk of salmonella poisoning. Cooking eggs until the yolk and white are firm can eliminate this risk.
Raw produce may also have hidden risks if during growing and harvesting the food has become contaminated with human or animal waste. These products must be thoroughly washed before consumption to remove any physical or bacterial contaminants. Unfortunately, fruits and vegetables rarely undergo cooking or heat treatment during preparation. Without heat treatment or bacterial kill phase there will always remain a risk for bacterial contamination and food-borne illness.
Produce with a rough or porous exterior may pose a greater risk than those with smooth surfaces. Most consumers are aware of the inherent risks in consuming uncooked produce, but are willing to take the risk given the importance of fruits and vegetables in a well-balanced diet.
Reducing the risk of food-borne illness is one the Erie County Health Departments highest priorities. Eliminating one misstep during food preparations may be the key to protecting your family and loved ones from unnecessary pain and suffering.