A Bite of the Poison Apple: Diseased Food Epidemics

by pharmacy on October 26, 2011

There have been a spate of recalls this year, including ground turkey – twice – alfalfa sprouts, papayas, bologna, hazelnuts, and, most recently, cantaloupes. Wait…cantaloupes? It sounds a little reminiscent of “The Attack of the Killer Tomatoes.” How could an innocuous, non-exotic fruit like cantaloupe be deadly? But on two separate occasions this year, there have been health warnings from the CDC. The first outbreak was traced to Del Monte brand. Twenty people scattered across nine states contracted a strain of salmonella and fell ill, but no one died. That’s the good news.

 More recently, a 20-state listeriosis outbreak was traced to Rocky Ford-brand cantaloupes that originated at Jensen Farms. This outbreak was a great deal more serious. As of October 3, 2011, 100 people have been infected and 18 have died. Listeriosis, or listeria infection, is most likely to affect seniors, pregnant women, newborn babies, and people with compromised immune systems. Common symptoms include fever, muscle aches, diarrhea, or other gastrointestinal problems. The initial stages can easily be mistaken for flu. The problem with listeriosis is its ability to spread beyond the gastrointestinal tract and infect other areas of the body. Complications vary; pregnant women may experience only mild flu-like symptoms, but the infection can harm the baby, causing miscarriage, stillbirth, premature delivery, or life-threatening infection of the newborn. Other symptoms anyone might experience are headache, stiff neck, confusion, loss of balance, and convulsions

 Preventing food borne diseases

  • The CDC recommends some easy commonsense guidelines for general food safety:
  • Rinse raw produce with running water before cutting or eating, even if you intend to peel it.
  • Scrub firm fruits and veggies like potatoes, squash, and melons with a clean brush.
  • After a rinse and a scrub, dry fruit or vegetables with a clean cloth or paper towel.
  • Keep uncooked meats separate from everything else, and don’t use the same cutting board or knife.
  • Wash hands, counters, knives and other utensils, and cutting boards thoroughly.
  • Keep the refrigerator clean, especially of meat juices. Clean frequently with hot water and liquid soap, including the sides.
  • Cook meat and poultry thoroughly.
  • Store foods safely and throw out opened packages of cold cuts and hot dogs in 3-5 days and sealed packages after 2 weeks.
  • Store leftovers in shallow containers with lids – they will cool faster that way.
  • It’s important to note that listeria can grow in the refrigerator.

 How can we tell the difference between a common ailment and a deadly listeria infection when a customer asks for an OTC diarrhea medication? We can’t. But we can ask questions. By staying on top of CDC outbreak alerts, we know what questions to ask – and when to advise our customers to see a doctor.

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