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Foodborne Illness: Touch, Time, Temperature and Tidiness


Dr. Arnold


Roy M. Arnold, MD

“Salmonella Outbreak Sickens Hundreds in Multiple States.” “Caribbean Cruise Cut Short Due to Norovirus Outbreak.” We’ve all seen the headlines telling of the latest foodborne illness outbreak in the country. Are there really more foodborne illnesses these days, or is medical science just able to detect them more efficiently? Let’s take a look.

Gastroenteritis is the medical term for an illness which involves nausea, vomiting and/or diarrhea. It is often referred to as “stomach flu,” a misnomer since the disease has nothing to do with influenza or respiratory illness. With better case definition, the number of cases of gastroenteritis has declined over the past 12 years by about 33 million cases per year from 211 million in 1999 to 178 million in 2011. Less than 1% of all cases of such gastrointestinal illness or about 9 million are traceable to contaminated food. The most common types of food associated with foodborne illness are produce, accounting for over half, followed by meat products, mainly poultry and dairy accounting for 42% and finally fish or shellfish.

The most common organisms accounting for foodborne illnesses were Norovirus, Salmonella, Listeria and Campylobacter. Norovirus is a highly contagious virus that causes a 2-3 day gastrointestinal illness. Most frequently the virus is spread person-to-person by direct contact or through food prepared by sick workers. This virus has caused many cruise ship outbreaks. Salmonella is a bacteria found on nearly all poultry and eggs. It cannot be effectively removed by washing but can be easily killed by thorough cooking and proper storage. Listeria is more commonly found in unpasteurized dairy products or in deli meats like sliced turkey or bologna. Campylobacter is a bacterium that is most commonly found in birds or domestic animals. It can be spread through undercooked poultry, contact with contaminated objects like cutting boards or utensils, or by contact with an infected animal.

Foodborne illnesses can largely be prevented by practicing the 4 T’s of food safety: Touch, Time, Temperature and Tidiness.

Touch – Never handle cooked food or raw meat with your bare hands. Always use vinyl gloves or clean utensils. Utensils, knives, cutting boards and counter tops must be thoroughly washed in hot water and soap or decontaminated with a bleach containing disinfectant before reuse. Never use plates that have touched raw meat to hold or store cooked food. If dining at a buffet always use a clean plate if returning to the buffet for seconds.

Time – Cooked food must not be allowed to cool to room temperature, or to sit at room temperature for more than 1 hour

. Leftovers stored in the refrigerator must be discarded, used or frozen within 48 hours. Make a habit of time/dating leftovers with a marker.

Temperature – Buy a digital meat thermometer and use it to judge the internal temperature of food to ensure thorough cooking. Poultry should be cooked to an internal temperature of 165 degrees, Ground meat to 160 and whole meat to 145 degrees. Fish should be cooked to 145 degrees or until the flesh is opaque and flakes. Eggs should be cooked until the white is completely opaque. If serving food at a buffet, it should be kept below 40 degrees or above 140 degrees during the entire period of serving.

Tidiness – Always wash your hands with soap and water before handling food and use vinyl gloves. Wash all dishes, cutting boards, utensils and countertops with soap and hot water after contact with raw food, or decontaminate with a bleach-containing disinfectant.

As the holiday season approaches take extra caution to ensure that your family and guests are not exposed to possible contamination. Forget about stuffed turkey and bake the stuffing separately from the bird. Even 1 drop of uncooked poultry juice can cause illness in humans. Make certain all cooked food reaches an internal temperature of 145 degrees, or in the case of poultry 165.  Be attentive to internal and storage temperatures, time at room temperature and cross-contamination. Persons who are ill with a gastrointestinal disease (nausea, vomiting or diarrhea) should not prepare or serve food.

If you do become ill with a gastrointestinal illness, contact your primary health provider if high fever or bloody diarrhea are present, if dehydration develops or if the illness does not resolve in 2-3 days. Children, the elderly, and those with chronic illnesses can be quite vulnerable. Have a happy and healthy holiday season!


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    Don Hoffman

    Cutting Boards

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