Group Offers Tips for Avoiding Foodborne Ill-nesses

— March is the month in which many people start planning vacations, and health advocates say it's not too early to start thinking about food safety, especially if you're going out of the country.

Dierdre Schlunegger, chief executive of the group Stop Foodborne Illness, said all-inclusive resorts have many perks, including buffets. She says there's a risk when food is served over a long period of time because there are more opportunities for the dishes not be kept at consistent, correct tem-peratures.

"From cooking at home and from going out to restaurants to eating at the buffet or church picnic or dinner, it doesn't seem to discrim-inate," she said. "It can happen in just any environment."

Tips to keep from get-ting sick include washing your hands thoroughly and frequently, and separating kitchen utensils and cutting boards that are used for meat, especially poultry. Schlunegger said 4 million people get sick eve-ry year from foodborne illnesses, more than 100,000 are hospitalized and more than 3,000 die. She said most people don't realize they have a foodborne illness; they blame it on a "stomach bug."

Her group was launched about a quarter century ago, after an e.coli out-break on the West Coast. She said they work to educate the public about food hazards, and have recently released an educational video for doctors and emergency-room workers.

"There's also a need to really educate those first-line physicians in the emergency depart-ment who are seeing foodborne illness," she said, "because they may not see it often enough to recognize it, and it's so important to quickly get care."

Federal researchers have identified more than 250 foodborne diseases. Most of them are infec-tions, caused by a varie-ty of bacteria, viruses and parasites, but harm-ful toxins and chemicals also can contaminate food.


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