Yet another reason for proper food handling

By Rebecca McFarland
Frontier Extension Agent

I’m sure most people have heard about the recent Cyclospora outbreak. As of Aug. 6, CDC (Centers for Disease Control) had been notified of 467 cases in 16 states, including Kansas. At least 27 persons have been hospitalized in five states. Nebraska and Iowa have performed investigations in their states and based on their analysis, the infections in their states is associated with a salad mix produced by Taylor Farms of Mexico and distributed to Darden restaurants (including Olive Garden and Red Lobster). However, it is not clear whether the cases from all of the states are part of the same outbreak.

To date, CDC had confirmed 41 cases of Cyclospora infection in their laboratories. Additional cases are currently under investigation and will be included on the CDC website as states confirm them. There is another multi-state food borne illness outbreak investigation ongoing through CDC, although it doesn’t involve Kansas. As of Aug. 1, 158 people have been confirmed to have become ill from hepatitis A after eating ‘Townsend Organic Antioxidant Blend’ in 10 states. FDA (Food and Drug Administration) and CDC have determined that the most likely vehicle for the hepatitis A virus appears to be a common shipment of pomegranate seeds from a company in Turkey.

According to the CDC, each year, 1 in 6 Americans (or 48 million people) gets sick from, 128,000 are hospitalized from, and 3,000 die of food borne illnesses. Food borne illnesses cause lost productivity, hospitalization, long-term disability claims and even death. Yet, many people don’t recognize or know the hazards that can make food unsafe.

So, here’s part 1 of Food Safety 101. Unsafe food usually results from contamination, which is the presence of harmful substances in food. Hazards can be divided into three categories, which include biological, chemical and physical.

Biological hazards include illness-causing pathogens such as viruses, bacteria, parasites, and fungi.

Chemical hazards include cleaners, sanitizers, polishes, machine lubricants, and toxic metals.

Physical hazards are foreign objects that accidentally get into food. Examples include hair, dirt, bandages, metal staples, and broken glass.

By far, biological hazards are the greatest threat to food safety. Illness-causing microorganisms cause most food borne illness outbreaks. And if you don’t remember anything else from reading this article, please remember this – many viruses, bacteria and parasites cause illness but cannot be seen, smelled or tasted. So, for most people, if you cannot see anything growing on the food, if the food doesn’t have an “off-odor”, or if it “tastes okay”, they think it is fine to consume. It’s also important to remember that bacteria that we cannot see, smell or taste can multiply to millions within a few hours at warm kitchen temperatures.

Many times I hear people say, “We ate that when I was younger and never got sick”, or “I did it that way 40 years ago and never got sick.” I have to remind them that our environment and food supply is very different from what it was even 10 years ago. There are changes in the environment that lead to food contamination and changes in our food production and supply. There are also new and emerging germs, toxins, and antibiotic resistance and new and different contaminated foods, such as prepackaged raw cookie dough, bagged spinach, and peanut butter causing illness.


McFarland_RebeccaRebecca McFarland is the Frontier Extension District family and consumer sciences agent. For more information, she can be contacted at the Extension district’s Ottawa office, 1418 S. Main, Suite 2, Ottawa, KS 66067, or call 785-229-3520, or email [email protected].

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