Foodborne illness, also called food poisoning, affects approximately 600 million people each year. And, according to a recent report by the World Health Organization, a third of deaths caused by food poisoning are from children ages 5 and below.
Data shows that 420,000 people die from food poisoning each year. 125,000 of those are preschoolers or younger. “Until now, estimates of foodborne diseases were vague and imprecise. This report sets the record straight,” said WHO Director-General Dr. Margaret Chan.
Poorly handled produce can be contaminated by bacteria, viruses, parasites and toxins. When eaten, these contaminants cause food poisoning. You might have heard of some of the most common foodborne illnesses like Salmonella, norovirus, E.coli and Campylobacter.
The report states that food poisoning was most common in low- and middle-income countries linked to:
unsafe drinking water used in food preparation
inadequate conditions in food production and storage
lower levels of literacy and education
insufficient food safety legislation or implementation of such legislation
“Symptoms of food poisoning can be as commonplace as diarrhea or as life-threatening as organ failure,” says the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in the U.S. Other symptoms include high fever, blood in stools, frequent vomiting and dehydration.
It's especially serious and dangerous for the more vulnerable members of society. “When young children, pregnant women, older adults, and people with weak immune systems eat contaminated food, they have a greater chance of becoming severely sick with problems like miscarriage or kidney failure,” adds the CDC.
It falls on parents to ensure that children’s food is safe for consumption and free from contamination. Everything from buying, preparing, cooking and storing food must be taken into consideration. For proper food handling and food poisoning prevention, here are guidelines from the CDC, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (U.S. FDA) and the Philippine Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to keep in mind:
1. Start with where and how you buy food Be critical of where you buy your food. Does the place look and smell clean? Do they follow proper food handling practices? When picking out food, always make sure that the packaging is undamaged especially for frozen food, and it’s still well before it’s expiry date.
Go straight home after grocery shopping to store your perishable items. “Perishable foods should not be left at room temperature longer than 2 hours,” says the U.S. FDA. When temperatures reach 32° C, cut it down to 1 hour. Remember, harmful bacteria multiply at temperatures between 4° to 40° C.
2. Be clean Always wash your hands before handling food. Repeat, always – even if you’re not planning to touch anything with your bare fingers. Practice proper hand washing by washing all parts of the hands vigorously for 20 seconds with soap and water, advises the FDA.
Clean surfaces and utensils often. Germs can survive in many places. Don’t forget to wash fruits and vegetables, even if you’re planning to peel them.
3. Separate raw food from fresh and ready-to-eat produce “Don’t cross-contaminate,” says the CDC. The germs from your raw meat, poultry, seafood and eggs can spread to otherwise unsuspecting food. Keep them away from fresh and ready-to-eat food. If you can, have two separate chopping boards: one for fruits and vegetables and another for raw meat and fish.
4. Cook thoroughly Kill those harmful bacteria by cooking your food to the right temperature. It’s not enough that the food looks done. It needs to be hot so they die. Check with a thermometer if the inside of your meat reaches 62° C. For ground meat, it should reach 71° C and 74° C for poultry.
Cook fish until it becomes opaque and the meat flakes easily with a fork. For eggs, both egg white and egg yolk should be firm and not runny. You might like runny yolks, but for the safety of your child cook your eggs until they’re firm.
5. Store food properly As a general rule of thumb, keep hot food hot and cold food cold. Take frozen food for example, the U.S. FDA advises against thawing them at the kitchen counter. Thaw them inside the refrigerator instead.
Also, cook thawed food immediately. Don’t put them back in the freezer. Keep your refrigerator below 4° C and your freezer even lower.