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How to Protect Your Family From Foodborne Illnesess this Summer


(ARA) - Summer brings with it months of fun activities like picnics, boating, swimming and hiking but it also brings an increased risk of a common and even deadly danger. In addition to keeping children safe from summer sunburns and insect bites, it is also important to take steps to protect kids and the rest of the family from contracting food-related diseases.

Several food-related illnesses can be severe and may even cause death in children, the elderly and people with weakened immune systems. Every year in the United States , more than 76 million people get sick, 300,000 are hospitalized, and 5,000 die as a result of food-related illnesses.

Foodborne illnesses can be very dangerous to young children and older adults, especially in the warm summer months. Hot and humid weather can provide the perfect environment for bacteria, viruses and other agents to develop in many foods. Careful preparation and food storage at picnics, barbeques and other summer events can help prevent the spread of illness.

"Foodborne illnesses are a serious public health concern because they can affect large groups of people at one time," says AMA Trustee Cecil Wilson, M.D., an internal medicine physician from Winter Park , Fla. "These illnesses are easily contracted and can spread very rapidly from one patient to another."

The germs that cause foodborne illness, called pathogens, are highly contagious. According to Dr. Wilson, infected patients may experience diarrhea, abdominal cramps, vomiting, head- or muscle-aches and fever. Symptoms usually appear 12 to 72 hours after eating contaminated food, but may occur between 30 minutes and four weeks later.

To help physicians understand new and re-emerging foodborne illnesses, the American Medical Association has created a primer for physicians and other health care professionals called "Diagnosis and Management of Foodborne Illnesses." The new primer includes symptom tables, information on antibiotic-resistant salmonella and E.coli, and sections on hepatitis A and contamination. It is available on the AMA Web site at

"As the front line of prevention and treatment, health care professionals must have the most up-to-date information available," says Dr. Wilson. "By quickly diagnosing and reporting certain serious conditions to the appropriate authorities, physicians can help identify an outbreak before it becomes a public health emergency."

Imported foods and increased travel abroad have contributed to the reemergence of food-related illnesses in the United States . Fruits, vegetables, fish and specialty foods that are shipped into the Unites States from different parts of the world can carry dangerous pathogens. Last year, an outbreak of hepatitis A in Tennessee , Georgia , North Carolina and Pennsylvania was traced to tainted green onions imported from Mexico . In Pennsylvania alone, there were 555 cases of foodborne illness and three deaths linked to the onions.

In addition to foreign foods, domestic products such as eggs and beef can cause food-related illness. Consuming unpasteurized milk or juices, home-canned goods, some produce, or foods that are raw or poorly cooked can make people sick. New pathogens are also causing outbreaks across the country and older illnesses have re-emerged in foods, such as Listeria in meats. In addition, recent changes in demographics, technology and economic development have increased the risks of foodborne illnesses.

Families can take extra precautions when preparing meals to decrease the risk of foodborne illnesses. Keeping surfaces and hands clean will help prevent bacteria from spreading. To prevent cross-contamination, raw meats, poultry and eggs should be kept separate from other foods on work surfaces and in the refrigerator. It is also important to make sure all foods are properly cooked and that any leftovers are refrigerated promptly.

Four Steps to Food Safety

  • Wash hands and surfaces often
  • Prevent cross contamination
  • Cook food to proper temperatures
  • Refrigerate promptly

The "Diagnosis and Management of Foodborne Illnesses" primer was created though a partnership of the AMA and the American Nurses Association-American Nurses Foundation in conjunction with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's Food Safety Office, the Food and Drug Administration's Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition and the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Food Safety and Inspection Service.

Courtesy of ARA Content

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Last Modified: 11/28/11.