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Food poisoning, or foodborne diseases, includes any kind of illness brought on by eating contaminated food. Food-linked illnesses hit 1 in 6 Americans each year. It puts 128,000 people in the hospital and ends the lives of 3,000.
“Foodborne diseases represent a major health problem in the United States and may be increasing,” says the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). “But better testing and tracking means more are reported.”
There’s some debate about what’s behind the increase in cases of food poisoning. Is it that more people are sick? Or is it that the testing and reporting are getting better? Or both?
Whatever the reason, you can take care of your health by knowing what to do to keep your food safe.
The most common causes of foodborne illnesses are bacteria and viruses. Other causes are parasites, molds, contaminants and allergens.
Salmonella bacteria alone cause about 1.35 million infections each year. You can check for current salmonella outbreaks on the CDC website.
If two or more people get the same sickness from the same contaminated food or drink, it’s called a foodborne illness outbreak. For example, illness from food served at a restaurant or at a large gathering. In those cases, the Food and Drug Administration may investigate and put out a warning. If you think your illness may be part of a larger outbreak, the USDA has suggestions for what to do.
Food poisoning symptoms can be mild or severe, based on what caused the problem. Common symptoms are:
If you’re sick, check with your doctor about what to do. Often you can treat food poisoning at home by replacing lost fluids. In some cases, over-the-counter (OTC) or prescription medicines may help. In severe cases, medical care may be needed. Your doctor can help make sure you get the right treatment.
The people most at risk for serious health issues from food poisoning are:
Healthy eating means more than eating your vegetables. Safe food handling is an important part of keeping yourself and your family safe. That means you should store and prepare food in ways that help prevent sickness linked to food. The CDC says to watch how you do routine tasks.
If you have questions, try the FoodKeeper App. It can show you how to store food safely. It also offers tips on how to use food at peak quality and cut waste.
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