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    Cooking Safely

    kids cookingIt is estimated that every year about 76 million people in the United States become ill from pathogens in food; of these, about 5.000 die.

    This may sound like pretty scary statistics, but there are simple steps you can take to keep you and your family safe from these foodborne pathogens.

    In the Cook Safely section you will find information about the basics of the most common foodborne illnesses. Read about signs and symptoms of the illnesses as well as what populations are the most at risk. Finally, you will find easy tips on how to keep you and your family's food safe from pathogens.

    Food safety is something you have complete control over. Together let's reduce the amount of pathogens in our food!

    Causes, signs, and symptoms of Foodborne Illnesses

    While there are many different causes of foodborne illness there are 4 pathogens that cause many of the cases. A pathogen is an agent causing disease, especially a living microorganism such as a bacteria, virus, or fungus. The 4 most common pathogens are:

    • sick-figureE.coli: can cause kidney failure in young children and infants.
    • Salmonella: can lead to reactive arthritis and serious infections.
    • Listeria: can cause meningitis and stillbirths.
    • Campylobacter: may be the most common cause for Guillain-Barre (gee-on ba-ray) syndrome. (Guillain-Barre syndrome is a disorder in which the body's immune system attacks part of the nervous system. This syndrome results in tingling and weakness in the muscles and can lead to temporary paralysis.

    Pathogens can grow on certain foods that have become unsafe. These foods are known as potentially hazardous foods. A potentially hazardous food is when bacteria, fungus, and viruses (microorganisms) grow rapidly. These foods have a characteristic that allow microorganisms to thrive, making them at risk of being contaminated.

    Potentially hazardous foods usually contain one or more of these characteristics:

    • High in moisture
    • High in protein
    • Have a neutral or slightly acidic pH

    The list below contains some, but not all potentially hazardous foods. The list gives you an idea of what kinds of foods can be hazardous.

    Milk and milk products

    Cooked rice or beans

    Raw eggs


    Meat, beef, pork, lamb


    Baked or boiled potatoes


    Sliced melons 

    Signs and Symptoms of Foodborne Illness

    Symptoms of foodborne illness are similar to symptoms of the flu but are caused by bacteria in food rather than the flu virus.

    Symptoms often include:

    • Nausea
    • Diarrhea
    • Headaches
    • Vomiting
    • Abdominal Cramping

    It is sometimes difficult to tell the difference between the flu and a foodborne illness unless a doctor diagnoses it or the food that was eaten has been tested and results indicate that the food is contaminated.

    Generally, foodborne illness can happen 30 minutes to 3 weeks after eating the contaminated food but most often occurs within 48 hours and the symptoms usually pass within 24 to 48 hours. Foodborne illness often causes diarrhea or vomiting or any or all of the symptoms listed above.

    Populations Most at Risk:

    Certain groups of people are at increased risk of getting a foodborne illness. It is especially important for these populations to follow food safety principles to ensure the safety of their food.

    These populations include:

    • Infants and preschool-age children
    • Pregnant women
    • Elderly people
    • People taking certain medications, such as antibiotics and immunosuppressant (drugs that weaken the immune system).
    • People who are ill (recently had major surgery, organ-transplant recipients, or who have pre-existing or chronic illness).