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Federal Officials Look For Link In Fresh Produce To Salmonella Poisoning

By: Amy Walker
By: Amy Walker

Health officials now say a nationwide upswing in Salmonella poisoning happened in September, but the cases are just now being linked together.

At least 16 people became sick in Kentucky.

Spinach, egg salad, lettuce... is there anything safe to eat in the grocery store any more?

Federal officials are looking for a link in fresh produce to Salmonella poisoning.

In eastern Kentucky, 8 people in Laurel County and one person in Whitley County got sick.

"Our cases came back as exact matches, so we knew there was a little something going on in the community," Judy Collins said.

The FDA says the outbreak is already over, it all happened in September.

Officials say they still don't know why the outbreak happened, "At this point we haven't determined what it might be. We ask questions about where they ate, specifically what they ate, if they at a hamburger, specifically what was on that hamburger," Carolee Epperson said.

Health officials say the illness is very common, and easily prevented.

Health officials say that with just a few simple steps you can help prevent salmonella contamination right in your home.

They say never use the same plate for raw meat and cooked meat and though it may be tempting, treats like cookie dough and cake batter contain raw ingredients and should be avoided.

Even if the source of contamination is fresh produce, officials say a through washing, will go far.

Washing fresh produce may not get rid of all the contaminants, but there is one last defense... Wash your hands!

Wash away the risk of Salmonella poisoning

Collins says she expects to find out what caused the Salmonella across the nation from the federal officials soon.

What's the Problem?
Most people do not think about the safety of their food until they or someone they know becomes ill from a food-related infection. While the food supply in the United States is one of the safest in the world, CDC estimates that 76 million people get sick, more than 300,000 are hospitalized, and 5,000 die each year from illnesses caused by contaminated foods or beverages. As the spectrum of foodborne diseases constantly changes, there are many opportunities for food to become contaminated as it is produced and prepared. More than 250 different foodborne diseases have been described: most are infections caused by various bacteria, viruses, and parasites - e.g. Salmonella, E. coli O157:H7, Campylobacter, Norwalk-like virus, Cryptosporidium and many others. Poisoning may also result from harmful toxins or chemicals that have contaminated food.

Raw foods from animals are most likely to be contaminated - beef, chicken, eggs, unpasteurized milk and cheese, and raw shellfish. Fruits and vegetables eaten raw are also of concern because they may be processed in unsanitary conditions. Most foodborne contamination is only discovered after people have suffered the effects: nausea, vomiting, abdominal cramps, diarrhea or more serious symptoms such as a high fever, blood in the stool, or prolonged vomiting. Fortunately, techniques for tracing outbreaks, quickly finding the source of infection and correcting the cause of the outbreak are constantly improving, which is particularly important in a country as large as the United States and in a world that increasingly shares food products.

Who's at Risk?
In normally healthy people, the symptoms generally last several days without causing other serious problems. No one can be completely protected from foodborne illnesses, but the effects are usually more severe among the very young (infants, especially those who are bottle-fed, and children), pregnant women, older people, people with liver disease, and people whose immune systems are weakened because of disease and/or its treatment. These patients may experience more serious illness, hospitalization may be required, and death can be the final outcome.

Can It Be Prevented?
Not entirely. But you can purchase foods that have been processed for safety, such as pasteurized milk or juice, and irradiated meat; you can also reduce the risk of foodborne illness by following four basic, simple steps:

Cook foods to the proper temperatures. Use a thermometer to measure the internal temperature of meat to be sure that it is cooked sufficiently to kill bacteria. For example, ground beef should be cooked to an internal temperature of 160o F. Eggs should be cooked until the yolk is firm.
Separate: Don't cross-contaminate one food with another. To avoid cross-contaminating foods, wash hands, utensils, and cutting boards with soap and warm, running water after they have been in contact with raw meat or poultry and before they touch another food. Put cooked meat on a clean platter rather than one that held the raw meat.
Chill: Refrigerate foods promptly. Bacteria can grow quickly at room temperature, so refrigerate foods if they are not going to be eaten within two hours. Divide large volumes of food into several shallow containers so they will cool more quickly.
Clean: Wash surfaces often, and wash hands with soap and water before preparing food; avoid preparing food for others if you have a diarrheal illness. Rinse fresh fruits and vegetables in running tap water to remove visible dirt and grime. Because bacteria can grow well on the cut surface of fruit or vegetables, be careful not to contaminate these foods while slicing them on the cutting board.

People at risk for a foodborne illness should avoid certain foods. For example, people with liver disease should avoid raw oysters, and pregnant women should cook meat well and avoid soft French-style cheeses, patþs, and sliced deli meats. Infants' bottles should be stored in the refrigerator and juice or formula that has become warm should be discarded. Bottles should be cleaned and disinfected before being used again.


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