Food-borne illness revives age-old lessons

Wednesday, July 31, 2013

"Complaint" used to be a regular occurrence during the summer, with children suffering diarrhea, cramps, fever and pain that usually went away in a week or so, but could be serious if the victim became too dehydrated.

Better refrigeration, sanitation and food handling helped reduce the outbreaks, which were eventually traced to the campylobacter bacteria.

State and federal investigators have linked a new outbreak of flu-like symptoms to another stomach bug, the cyclospora parasite, but the same old lessons of safe food handling apply.

Sickness in some 372 people in 15 states, including Iow and Nebraska, has been reported, and most, but not all cases, have been linked to eating pre-packaged salad mix.

Despite labels that say "ready to eat," we'd recommend a good rinsing, anyway.

Cyclosporiasis is caused by parasites that are spread when people ingest food or water contaminated with feces. People who are exposed usually become sick after about a week and have bad diarrhea and other flu-like symptoms that can last from a few days to a month or longer if untreated.

Many victims feel tired and while relapse is possible, it's rarely fatal, not generally contagious and can be treated with antibiotics.

People who live or travel to subtropical countries are most at risk, but, thanks to the importation of fruits and vegetables, infections like the latest have occurred in the United States.

Don't worry if you have not already gotten sick; most of the illnesses were reported between mid-June and early July, and the fresh food that is believed to have been involved probably has already been consumed or discarded.

The bad news is, you probably can't avoid exposure to contamination in fresh food unless you grow it yourself, and perhaps not even then.

The good news is, you can practice safe handling and preparation techniques such as always washing your hands, utensils and surfaces with hot, soapy water before and after handling food. And, of course, thoroughly washing all fresh produce before you eat it can significantly reduce your chances of getting sick.

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