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Over 200 known diseases worldwide are caused by unsafe food containing harmful chemical substances, bacteria, viruses, or parasites. These diseases, also known as food-borne diseases or food-borne illnesses, are spread through direct contact with contaminated food and can lead to severe health problems. Salmonella and Escherichia coli (also commonly referred to as E. coli) are two common pathogens that cause food-borne diseases. Common symptoms typically include stomach pains, vomiting, and diarrhea, and they largely affect the gastrointestinal system. Those most susceptible to these diseases are infants, young children, pregnant women, the elderly, and people with already weakened immune systems.

Although food can become contaminated with microorganisms or bacteria at many stages during the commercial food production phase before reaching the consumer, increased awareness about safe food handling and food preparation in the home is equally important in preventing food-borne diseases. Proper hand washing before cooking or eating is essential in preventing the spread of germs from your hands to the food you consume, and fruits and vegetables should always be washed thoroughly. If utensils or cutting boards are not properly cleaned, microbes can be transferred from one food to another.

 Salmonella cultured in a petri dish.

Image Source: Linde1

Additionally, raw foods and meats containing pathogens may contaminate other foods by direct contact, so raw foods should be kept separated at all times. Furthermore, many bacteria are killed by heat, so food should be heated to appropriate temperatures while cooking or reheating to effectively eliminate them. Lastly, refrigeration of foods is important in preventing the growth of microorganisms. In fact, bacterial microbes present in lightly contaminated food can rapidly multiply, so food left out overnight instead of put in the fridge might be fully contaminated by morning.

To further promote safe food handling on a global scale, the World Health Organization (WHO) designated the 2015 World Health Day on April 7, 2015 with the theme of “food safety: from farm to plate, make food safe.” With this campaign, the WHO advocates for proper and safe handling of food at each stage, from the original source until the time the food is consumed. In the United States, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the Department of Agriculture (USDA) also mandate the hazard analysis and critical control points (HACCP) systemic approach on domestic juice and meat production. The HACCP method was initially established in 1969 and focuses on the prevention of hazards during each step of the food production and preparation processes.

While regulations have been introduced to promote safe food handling at all stages, be sure to take the appropriate steps to ensure that any food you and your loved ones ingest is as safe as possible.

Feature Image Source: kropekk_pl

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