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Food-borne diseases cause an estimated 76 million illnesses and 5,000 deaths in the United States each year. Many different strains of bacteria and viruses in foods can cause severe nausea, abdominal pain, vomiting, bloody diarrhea, fever and other flu-like symptoms. These symptoms usually appear within one to eight days but, in the case of listeria, may not appear for 70 days. Adults usually recover, but children can suffer permanent kidney damage or worse. Only a fraction of these illnesses are routinely reported to the Centers for Disease Control. Most outbreaks are never recognized, and those that are frequently go unreported. Here, the most common food culprits, plus how to keep your family safe.
Beef: Ground beef: 64 outbreaks, 2,633 reported cases
Other beef: 70 outbreaks, 3,456 reported cases
Tips: Avoid E. coli by buying irradiated ground beef, which can be hard to find. Gamma rays or electron beams kill the organism. Cook hamburgers until the internal temperature reaches 160 degrees F. Don't go by color, as some ground beef will turn brown before that temperature is reached.
Poultry: Chicken: 45 outbreaks, 1,483 reported cases
Turkey: 31 outbreaks, 2,703 reported cases
Tips: Rinse raw poultry under running water and pat dry with paper towels. Cook whole or ground poultry until the internal temperature is at least 180 degrees F.
Seafood: 340 outbreaks, 5,133 reported cases
Tips: Cook fish until it's opaque and flakes easily with a fork. Avoid raw shellfish.
Pork: 44 outbreaks, 2,680 reported cases
Tips: Cook pork until the internal temperature is at least 160 degrees F.
Eggs: 271 outbreaks, 10,827 reported cases
Tips: Avoid foods that use raw or unpasteurized eggs, such as Caesar salad dressing, tiramisu, lemon meringue pie and homemade ice cream. Never eat cake batter or raw cookie dough. Cook eggs until yolks and whites are firm. Keep eggs in their original carton, and discard any cracked eggs.
Dairy: 19 outbreaks, 333 reported cases regarding milk; 18 outbreaks, 1,014 reported cases regarding cheese; 20 outbreaks, 1,334 reported cases regarding ice cream; 8 outbreaks, 185 reported cases attributed to "other dairy"
Tips: Never consume unpasteurized milk or cheese.
Fruits: 26 outbreaks, 4,018 reported cases
Tips: Keep fruit away from raw meat. Rinse or peel raw produce thoroughly (even organic produce). Fruits can be rinsed with diluted bleach (1 teaspoon of bleach to 1 quart of water), or placed in boiling water briefly before cutting to avoid contaminating the interior with pathogens on the peel or skin.
Vegetables: 115 outbreaks, 6,155 reported cases
Tips: Keep vegetables away from raw meat. Avoid salad bars in which foods don't look fresh or seem cold enough. Avoid raw sprouts -- they're responsible for dozens of outbreaks of food poisoning in the past several years. Rinse or peel raw vegetables thoroughly (even organic veggies), including ready-to-eat produce in a bag, such as lettuce. Wash lettuce leaf by leaf. Vegetables can be rinsed with diluted bleach (1 teaspoon bleach to 1 quart of water), or placed in boiling water briefly before cutting to avoid contaminating the interior of the produce with pathogens on the peel or skin.
Juices: 14 outbreaks, 951 reported cases
Tips: Avoid drinking unpasteurized juices. Buy only those labeled "pasteurized" or "made from concentrate."
Baked goods: 41 outbreaks, 1,303 reported cases
Tips: Keep fresh baked goods and pastries made with cream or eggs refrigerated. Avoid baked goods that have been sitting at room temperature. especially if they're unwrapped and human hands can touch them.
Sources: Total reported outbreaks and cases, 1990-2001 from the Center for Science in the Public Interest, Food and Drug Administration, Centers for Disease Control, U.S. Department of Agriculture, Safe Tables Our Priority