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Posted: Monday, July 17, 2017

Preventing Foodborne Illnesses

The summer season brings with it a lot of annual traditions. We travel more, we swim more and we’re outside more, including when we eat. In our region, especially, summer for many people means regular outdoor barbecues with friends, family and neighbors. It’s important to remember, though, that food safety is critical when preparing foods, whether you’re indoors, outdoors or just visiting a local restaurant.

Blount Memorial Hospital’s infection control manager Ann Henry says one of the most-dangerous foodborne illnesses is botulism. “Botulism is a serious illness that is made when botulism bacteria create toxic spores,” Henry said. “These spores usually are only made under certain conditions, such as improperly preserved, fermented or home-canned foods. The toxin the spores create can stop the body’s control of muscle movement, including the muscles that assist with breathing, which can be fatal. If you’re canning your own foods at home, or if you’re just grilling or cooking in the kitchen, it’s important to know how to prevent this potentially deadly illness,” she explained.

“According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), botulism symptoms usually begin with weakness in the muscles that control the throat, face, eyes and mouth,” Henry continued. “This muscle weakness also can spread to the arms, legs, torso and neck, which can be deadly as these are vital to respiration. Other botulism symptoms include blurred or double vision, drooping eyelids, difficulty swallowing, slurred speech, and dry mouth,” Henry said. “It’s critical that you get to a doctor or the emergency room quickly if you or someone you know is experiencing these symptoms,” she added.

So, how can foodborne illnesses, such as botulism, be prevented? Henry says it just takes a little effort. “There are steps you can and should take to avoid botulism and other foodborne illnesses,” Henry said. “When you’re canning foods at home, it’s always crucial to properly wash and sterilize your canning materials. You also should regularly perform hand hygiene while you’re canning. Foods to be very cautious of are those that have a low acid content, such as green beans, potatoes, corn, beets and asparagus,” she said. “As for other foodborne illnesses, such as salmonella, remember to properly clean your hands frequently, particularly when handling raw meats, to prevent cross-contamination. You also should wash surfaces and utensils with hot water and soap after each use. Always wash your fruits and vegetables before you peel or cut them, but avoid washing meats and poultry, as this can cause bacteria to splash and spread to other utensils, surfaces and foods,” she explained.

“Cross-contamination also can be avoided by using separate plates, utensils and cutting boards for uncooked meats, vegetables and fruits,” Henry continued. “Also, always remember to cook your foods to the proper temperature, which can be determined by using a food thermometer. When you’re finished, remember to refrigerate your foods quickly, particularly perishable foods, which should be refrigerated within two hours. Finally, if you do think you’re experiencing food poisoning, contact your physician or call 911 if it’s an emergency situation,” she added. “If you think you got food poisoning from eating at a local restaurant, remember to contact your local health department to report it. Generally speaking, you can reduce your risk of foodborne illnesses when eating out by checking cleanliness ratings, asking the restaurant how their food is prepared, choosing places that look clean and avoiding foods that sit out in areas where they’re not at proper temperatures.”

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