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Ways to Prevent Foodborne Illness Discussed by Washington State Department of Health

OLYMPIA, Wash. - Sept. 10, 1997--Foodborne illnesses associated with restaurants and commercial products get a lot of attention, but many illnesses can be prevented by handwashing and proper food handling, according to the state Department of Health. To help address these issues, Gov. Gary Locke has proclaimed September as Food Safety Month. The theme is "Think Twice - Handle it Right."

More than 250 diseases can be caused by contaminated food or drink, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Most are caused by bacteria such as Salmonella or Campylobacter. These bacteria most commonly are found in raw or undercooked foods of animal origin such as meat, milk, eggs, fish or shellfish.

"Most foodborne disease can be prevented by thinking twice - and following some simple food handling rules," said Janet Anderberg, food safety specialist at Department of Health. "This applies to people cooking at home and food service workers."

Consequences of foodborne illness range from mild stomach upset to flu-like symptoms, including nausea, vomiting and diarrhea, to severe symptoms such as kidney failure or death. According to the CDC, "Handwashing is the single most important means of preventing the spread of infection." Hand-transmission is a critical factor in the spread of bacteria, pathogens, and viruses that cause foodborne illness. In many cases, restaurant outbreaks have been traced to a single employee who failed to wash. "Parents can help prevent foodborne illness at home by washing their hands before and after they prepare food, and especially after handling raw meats, poultry or seafood, to prevent cross-contamination with other foods," Anderberg said.

"Cutting boards, knives and utensils must be kept clean and washed between uses." According to the CDC, foodborne illnesses related to food workers failing to wash their hands, or lack of properly working sinks, towels or soap, was a factor in 32 percent of the outbreaks. Cross contamination was a factor in 28 percent of outbreaks and ill or infected workers were identified in 13 percent.

Proper handling, cooking, storing, and serving of food can also prevent foodborne illness and contamination of the food, and keep naturally-occurring bacteria from multiplying. A basic rule is "keep hot food hot and cold food cold."

Each year, more than 30 million estimated cases of food poisoning occur in the United States alone. Foodborne illness kills an estimated 9,000 people each year nationally. The annual cost of foodborne illness in terms of pain and suffering, reduced productivity, and medical costs is estimated to be between $10 and $83 billion. Department of Health offers the following recommendations to prevent foodborne illness:

Purchasing food

Preparing food

Serving food

Storing food

Information prepared by a Food Safety Taskforce is available through Seattle-King County Department of Public Health website .

CONTACT: Matt Ashworth, 360/753-0757 Renee Guillierie, 360/753-3934 Janet Anderberg, 206/464-7417

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