Foodborne Illness Dangers for Vulnerable Populations

The FDA has released a report about how foodborne illness is especially dangerous for vulnerable and high risk populations. That includes the very young who are under 1 year of age, older adults, immune-compromised individuals, and pregnant women. Those groups are especially vulnerable to Listeria monocytogenes bacteria. People in those groups accounted for at least 90% of Listeria cases. That illness has a 21% fatality rate.

These groups are more at risk for serious complications and death from these infections because of their weaker immune systems. As we age, our immune system starts to wane. The amount of acid in the stomach, which can kill bacteria, declines. And side effects from treatments for other illnesses, such as chemotherapy for cancer, can weaken the immune system. Children have weaker immune systems because they are still developing. And the immune system of pregnant women is altered to enable the mother to co-exist with the fetus. The body has to work to avoid rejecting the fetus because half of its genes are not the same as the mother’s.

The report states that prevention of foodborne illness is key. The FDA is putting new measures in place as part of the Food Safety Modernization Act to stop contamination of food during the entire food chain, from growth to harvest to processing, manufacturing, and transporting.

But consumers need to pay attention to food safety rules too. Avoid eating raw animal products, which include raw milk and cheeses made from it, undercooked eggs, and raw and undercooked meat and fish dishes. Always wash produce under running water before preparation. Make sure counters and utensils are cleaned and sterilized and avoid cross-contamination. Avoid hot dogs and deli-style meats unless they are reheated to a safe temperature, and avoid deli salads such as chicken or seafood salad. Keep your fridge at 40 degrees F or lower, and your freezer at 0 degrees F or lower. And if you eat at a restaurant, ask about the food you’re ordering; make sure it’s properly cooked, and doesn’t include risky or raw ingredients.

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