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Teaching Nutrition: Background information about nutrition, the nutrients, and healthy eating habits
Food Safety

Did You Know?

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At least one million people in the United States suffer from food-borne illnesses each year.

The hazards of food-borne illness can be avoided by practicing sanitary food handling and effective food preparation techniques.

Two Main Categories of Food-borne Illnesses

Food-borne infection:
Illness caused by eating food containing harmful microorganisms. The microorganisms themselves cause the symptoms or effects. Example: Salmonellosis, an infection of the germ Salmonella resulting in severe diarrhea, fever, and cramps.
Food-borne intoxication:
Illness caused by poisons or toxins in the food a person eats. The toxin can occur naturally in certain foods, such as mushrooms, or be deposited in foods by certain microorganisms. Example: Staphylococcus aureus, a bacteria that produces a toxin which causes vomiting, diarrhea, and cramps.

Four types of microorganisms that affect foods are bacteria, viruses, yeasts, and molds:

  • Bacteria: Small, single-cell organisms that can live anywhere people do. Bacteria thrive in a warm, moist environment that is neutral or slightly acidic. Bacteria are more commonly involved in cases of food-borne illness than viruses, yeasts, and molds. Common names for bacterial causes of food-borne illness include: C. jejuni, C. botulinum, C. perfringens, E. coli 0157:H7, Listeria monocytogenes, and Salmonella. (For more information, a very helpful chart is available at:
  • Viruses: The smallest and perhaps simplest forms of life known. Viruses cause illness such as colds, influenza, and infectious hepatitis. Viruses do not increase in number while they are in the food. The food merely transports the viruses, which may lodge themselves in the human host and produce abundantly. Examples include: Norovirus (Caliciviridae family viruses), rotaviruses
  • Yeasts: Yeasts are types of fungi that require sugar, proper temperature, and moisture for growth. Yeasts often consume these ingredients in food products and spoil the food in the process. Yeast spoilage can create a slime on fruit juices or pickle brine (juice pickles are preserved in), or a pink discoloration in cottage cheese. Examples include: Torulopsis, Saccharomyces bisporus
  • Molds: Molds are fungi that can grow on almost any food at almost any storage temperature, under almost any conditions – moist or dry, acidic or non-acidic, salty, or sweet. The color of mold is usually white but can be blue-green, orange, black, gray, or even red. Examples include: Aspergillus, Neurospora, Oosproa, Penicillium, Rhizopus

Additionally, parasites and other toxic substances can be transported by food. Always practice safe food handling techniques.

To prevent food-borne illness, it is critically important to practice safe habits in shopping, storing, thawing, preparing, cooking, serving, and freezing foods. The U.S. Department of Agriculture provides informational materials about food-borne illness, outbreaks, food recalls, and food safety.

Food Safety Tips
Always wash your hands thoroughly (soap and warm water for at least 20 seconds) before preparing or consuming food. Sanitize any utensils and workspace used when preparing food. Cutting boards can be soaked in a dilute bleach solution.
Keep foods at their proper temperature. Hot foods must be kept hot (above 140F), cold foods must be kept cold (below 40F), and frozen foods must be kept frozen solid (below 0F).
Be careful not to cross-contaminate surfaces through behaviors such as using the same plate to carry raw and cooked food between the grill and kitchen.
Always cook and reheat foods thoroughly (to at least 165F). Check a food guide for the proper cooking temperature and use a thermometer to test doneness. Never consume raw meats or eggs, or unpasteurized dairy products.

For more information, please see the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the Food and Drug Administration, or the following websites:

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