What do beef, peanuts, chicken, chocolate chip cookie dough, alfalfa sprouts, and dry spices all have in common? They're among food products that have been recalled in recent years due to safety concerns, such as contamination with E. coli and salmonella.
There are an estimated 76 million cases of foodborne illness each year in the U.S., yet experts say the vast majority go unreported or are not traced back to the source. According to a recent analysis by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), norovirus and salmonella have been among the leading causes of foodborne disease outbreaks. Foodborne outbreaks of norovirus occur most often when infected food handlers don't wash their hands thoroughly after using the toilet, the CDC says, while salmonella outbreaks occur most often after foods that have been contaminated with animal feces are eaten raw or insufficiently cooked.
Poultry, leafy vegetables, and fruits and nuts were the food commodities associated with the largest number of illnesses, the CDC found. And according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), frozen processed foods - such as pot pies - have also been a source of foodborne illness in recent years.
While various government agencies and the food producers themselves try to ensure the food supply is safe, some experts argue that there are so many variables in today's global food-supply chain that consumers would be smart to take more responsibility for food safety themselves.
One thing you can do to keep you and your family safe is pay attention to food recalls. The government and food companies alert the public to problems, but many consumers do not take heed. In fact, a recent survey found that only about 60 percent of Americans have ever looked around their homes for recalled foods, and more than 10 percent said they had eaten a food they thought had been recalled. Researchers say the survey results suggest that most Americans view recalls as important, but not particularly relevant to them personally.
You can also reduce your risk for food-borne illness by handling, preparing, and storing foods properly. The USDA offers basic guidelines to keep foods safe:
For more detailed information and tips - and an up-to-the-minute list of recently recalled foods - visit the USDA Food Safety and Inspection Service Web site at www.fsis.usda.gov.
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Swapping eating utensils or cups can spell trouble for people with peanut allergies if those items touched a peanut-y food. Saliva on forks, glasses, and other items can trigger allergic reactions in sensitive people. Kissing also is a common trigger. For example, kissing someone who just had peanuts can be dangerous for some folks. This is true even if peanut-eaters chew gum for 30 minutes or brush their teeth for two minutes.