Reduce Foodborne Illness with Education and Training

Food safety and sanitation are integral to operating a successful food service. The safety of our food supply is a responsibility shared by producers, sellers, managers and handlers.

Foodborne illnesses are still a major problem in the U.S. The CDC estimates that each year 9.4 million Americans get sick, more than 55,900 are hospitalized, and a shocking 1,351 people die from foodborne illnesses just from known pathogens.

The leading three causes of foodborne illness attributed to food service workers are: poor personal hygiene, improper holding temperatures, and improper cooling procedures. Thus, with the top contributing factors to foodborne illness are related to food handler behavior, the importance of food handler training is critical. Education of food handlers provides more qualified employees, thereby reducing the risk of foodborne illness outbreaks caused by improper food preparation and handling techniques.

What is Foodborne Illness?

A foodborne illness occurs when someone gets sick after consuming a contaminated food or drink. It is also called foodborne disease, foodborne infection, or food poisoning.

More than 250 agents are known to cause foodborne illness. These agents include germs (such as bacteria, viruses, and parasites) and chemicals (such as ciguatoxin).

The most common symptoms of foodborne illness include upset stomach, abdominal cramps, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, fever, and dehydration. Symptoms may range from mild to severe and differ depending on the agent that caused the illness. Some illnesses lead to long-term health problems or death.

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Cost of Foodborne Illnesses

Foodborne illnesses cost the United States billions of dollars each year.  One foodborne illness outbreak can cost an operation thousands of dollars and:

  1. Loss of customers and sales
  2. Loss of reputation
  3. Negative media exposure
  4. Lowered staff morale
  5. Lawsuits and legal fees
  6. Staff missing work
  7. Increased insurance premiums
  8. Staff retraining

Populations at High Risk for Foodborne Illnesses

  1. Pregnant Women: When pregnant, a woman’s immune system is reduced.
  2. Elderly: Older people with weakened bodily systems with age.
  3. Infants and preschool-age children: Very young children have not built up strong immune systems.
  4. People with Suppressed Immune Systems: People with cancer, HIV/AIDS, and transplant recipients.

Food Contaminants

  1. Biological: Pathogens are the greatest threat to food safety. They include viruses, parasites, fungi, and bacteria.
  2. Chemical: Food service chemicals can contaminate food if they are used incorrectly. This group includes cleaners, sanitizers, polishes, machine lubricants and toxic metals.
  3. Physical: Foreign objects like hair, finger nail, dirt, bandages, metal staples, and jewelry.

How Food Becomes Unsafe

  1. Time-temperature abuse: Food stayed out too long at room temperature.
  2. Cross-contamination: Pathogens can be transferred from one surface of food to another.
  3. Poor personal hygiene: Food handlers can cause a foodborne illness if they fail to wash their hands after using the restroom, come to work sick, cough or sneeze on food and touch or scratch wound, and then touch the food.

Foodborne illnesses are a preventable and an underreported public health problem. These illnesses are a burden on public health and contribute significantly to the cost of health care. They also present a major challenge to certain groups of people. Although anyone can get a foodborne illness, some people are at greater risk.


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