Study results appetizing
According to a recent report by the Center for Disease Control, foodborne illnesses are still common in the United States, despite advances in food safety.
However, the number of foodborne illnesses in Summit County is comparatively low.
"We’re kind of lucky to be in an area where we see less than the rest of the nation on average," Park City Medical Center Emergency Department Medical Director Kris Kemp said.
While the study has shown that foods containing produce are responsible for half the norovirus outbreaks, the virus can also be transmitted by those infected with the virus touching other objects.
"The norovirus is running rampant across the entire United States this season as the main source of our foodborne illness. It’s so common we don’t really consider it foodborne just because you can pick it up from a door knob as easy as something else," Kemp explained.
More foodborne illnesses are caused by leafy vegetables than any other food, while poultry is responsible for more deaths than any other food, according to the study.
"It’s often not the bacteria that is a problem but the toxins the bacteria produce because our bodies are used to managing bacteria all the time," he said. "Every time you swallow, you are getting a load of bacteria that your body is used to fighting off. It’s part of our immune system. It’s not something to be scared of. It’s just the way we are designed to live in this bacterial- and viral-rich environment called planet earth."
The issue, Kemp said, is when food sits out and bacteria are allowed to grow to a load higher than our bodies are able to manage well, then we start to show symptoms of the virus.
But most foodborne illnesses are transmitted to the food by someone with unclean hands, he said.
"There are some bacteria that just grow naturally in the environment, but it’s not as common. If you look at illnesses that can only be transmitted by food, that category would shrivel quite quickly," Kemp said.
Instead, most foodborne illnesses come from fecal matter.
"That’s an ugly truth no one wants to talk about, but that’s where things are coming from," he said.
Kemp said that when bacteria like shigella or salmonella grow, it usually starts with fecal matter from either an animal or human, and the bacteria is transmitted from someone who didn’t wash their hands well.
"So as long as people are careful, wash their hands, and prepare and store their food properly, they should only worry about the door knobs they come across," he said.
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