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Is our food safe?

It seems to me that there has become an increasing amount of food-borne illnesses as of late.  Maybe I was just too  young to remember them in the past, I’m not sure, but with mad cow, e-coli infected products and now Listeriosis infected meats and maybe cheese, I have to wonder just how safe our food really is.

According to public health experts, up to 13 million Canadians (or more than 40% of the population) are affected by food-borne illnesses in one way or another.  These new chemicals and hormone foods that are being fed to livestock and sprayed on gardens, resulting in the early development of  young girls and in some illnesses, death.

The newest threat to get into the headlines is Listeriosis, an infection caused by eating food contaminated with the bacterium Listeria monocytogenes.  Listeriosis can cause brain infection and even death, and by the time news of it hit the news Sept 1, 12 people had already died in connection with Listeria monocytogenes, and 7 deaths under review, with 38 total confirmed cases.  Because of the disease’s long incubation period, this number is expected to rise.  These deaths are among the dozens of confirmed cases that are being blamed on sandwich meats from the Maple Leaf Foods processing plant in Toronto.  The bacterium has been found in a variety of raw foods, such as uncooked meats and vegetables, as well as in processed foods that become contaminated after processing, such as soft cheeses and cold cuts at the deli counter.

Symptoms of an infection are often more severe than other forms of food poisoning and can include-  nausea, vomiting, cramps, diarrhea, headache, constipation and a persistent fever. If it spreads to the nervous system, symptoms may also include severe headache, stiff neck, confusion, loss of balance, and convulsions. After eating contaminated food, symptoms usually appear within 2 to 30 days, but can take as long as 90 days.  Listeria is more likely to cause death than other bacteria that cause food poisoning.

So what can you do?

Unlike most bacteria, Listeria can survive and grown on foods being stored in the fridge, but it can be killed off by using proper cooking methods. 

General recommendations:

  • Thoroughly cook raw food from animal sources, such as beef, pork, or poultry.
  • Wash raw vegetables thoroughly before eating.
  • Keep uncooked meats separate from vegetables and from cooked foods and ready-to-eat foods.
  • Avoid unpasteurized (raw) milk or foods made from unpasteurized milk.
  • Wash hands, knives, and cutting boards after handling uncooked foods.
  • Consume perishable and ready-to-eat foods as soon as possible
  • Do not eat hot dogs, luncheon meats, or deli meats, unless they are reheated until steaming hot.
  • Avoid getting fluid from hot dog packages on other foods, utensils, and food preparation surfaces, and wash hands after handling hot dogs, luncheon meats, and deli meats.
  • Do not eat soft cheeses such as feta, Brie, and Camembert, blue-veined cheeses, or Mexican-style cheeses such as queso blanco, queso fresco, and Panela, unless they have labels that clearly state they are made from pastuerized milk.
  • Do not eat refrigerated pâtés or meat spreads. Canned or shelf-stable pâtés and meat spreads may be eaten.
  • Do not eat refrigerated smoked seafood, unless it is contained in a cooked dish, such as a casserole. Refrigerated smoked seafood, such as salmon, trout, whitefish, cod, tuna or mackerel, is most often labeled as “nova-style,” “lox,” “kippered,” “smoked,” or “jerky.” The fish is found in the refrigerator section or sold at deli counters of grocery stores and delicatessens. Canned or shelf-stable smoked seafood may be eaten.

(See Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) for most current list of food recalls.)

Eat safe.  Cook your meat.  Wash the cutting boards and knives before using them on other items.  And be aware of what products to avoid. 

Sources:

Risky Eating, by Cynthia Cravit

National Center for Zoonotic, Vector-Borne, and Enteric Diseases (ZVED)

CDC- Centres for Disease Control and Prevention

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