Even if you’ve never experienced the joys of getting a “stomach bug,” chances are you’ve known somebody who has. With one in six Americans experiencing some kind of foodborne illness every year—resulting in an estimated 128,000 hospitalizations and 3,000 deaths annually—‘food poisoning’ is one of the most common causes of illness.
In honor of Food Safety Education Month, we would like to explore the risks that customers and employees face. From improper processing, cross contamination, the path from farm to plant facility to plate is rife with dangers that need to be addressed.
Preventing foodborne illness is everyone’s responsibility. Whether the customer is picking it out from a grocery store, having it served, poured, or delivered, or simply using it as an ingredient in their recipe, if you handled it, you can face some potential exposure to liability.
Foodborne Illness Affects Nearly 50 Million Americans Every Year
It’s likely that you’re one of the 48 million Americans who suffer from a foodborne illness in a given year. While yes, it could be something as simple as stomach cramps and a few trips to the bathroom every hour, it could end up much more serious.
Types of Foodborne Illness
As we’ve said, just as each party in the supply chain adds value, they also each add risk. The more hands that touch any item, the more risk that food could be contaminated. Bacteria and toxins can come into the mix, often resulting in one of the following illnesses, according to the CDC Foodborne Diseases Active Surveillance Network (FoodNet):
- Campylobacteriosis (Incidence rate: 19.71 per 100,000): Considered the most common bacterial cause of diarrheal illness in the United States, 1.5 million foodborne illness cases are the result of campylobacteriosis. From vegetables fertilized with manure to infections affecting cows, this can find its way into meat, milk products, and more.
- Salmonellosis (Incidence rate: 17.12 per 100,000): Salmonella infection (salmonellosis) is a common bacterial disease that affects the intestinal tract. Generally shed through feces, humans may become infected through contaminated water or food including raw meat, poultry, and seafood, eggs, and sometimes contaminated fruits and vegetables.
- Shiga toxin-producing E. Coli (Incidence rate: 6.26 per 100,000): With an estimated 265,000 illnesses caused each year, specific strains of the bacterium E.coli (called Escherichia coli) infect large intestines and produces a toxin that results in sudden bloody diarrhea and in some cases, other severe complications.
- Shigella (Incidence rate: 4.83 per 100,000): Shigella infection (shigellosis) is an intestinal disease caused by a family of bacteria known as shigella. Often caused by improper handling of food, person-to-person transmission, or contaminated plant matter, shigella infection can result in diarrhea, fever, and more.
- Listeriosis (Incidence rate: 1.36 per 100,000): One of the more outbreak-prone and recall inducing foodborne illnesses in the past few years, listeriosis comes as the result of listeria, and can be caused by eating improperly processed vegetables or deli meats, and unpasteurized milk products. According to the Mayo Clinic, this can be very serious for pregnant women, people older than 65 and people with weakened immune systems.
- Botulism: Despite low incidence rates, botulism is deadly. Improperly canned foods, fermented fish, and baked potatoes can expose people to this neurotoxin, and those exposed could end up suffering from paralysis or death.
According to a CDC analysis of hospitalizations and outbreaks conducted between 1998 and 2008, 51 percent of illnesses were attributed to plants, 42 percent to land animals, and another 6 percent were estimated to have come from aquatic animals. However, when it comes to hospitalizations, dairy is the most common cause, followed by leafy vegetables, poultry, vine-based products, fruits, and nuts. For more information, view the CDC article titled food safety by type of food.
Safe Food Handling: Protecting Your Customers and Your Business
Food poisoning can come from a variety of sources. Any time that a food product is touched, removed from cool storage, or put in contact with another item, there is risk.
Top Risk Factors for Food Contamination
From the processing facility to the prep table, both businesses and consumers could add unnecessary risk to a product. According to State Food Safety, here are the five biggest risk factors for foodborne illness:
- Storing in the Danger Zone: Hot food should be held at 135°F or hotter; cold food should be held at 41°F or colder. Anywhere between these areas is considered part of the ‘danger zone’-the area where bacteria multiply and risk increases. Poor thawing practices, lacking measurement, and mechanical malfunction could present unnecessary risk.
- Not Following Cooking Guidelines: It is a common misconception that all food bacteria are destroyed simply by adding heat. The truth is, not all foods are cooked equal. Some foods need to be held at specific temperatures for a long enough time (pasteurization). Others create heat-stable toxins that can’t be destroyed by cooking.
- Cross-Contamination: Cross contamination can happen in a number of ways. With lack of proper cleaning and sanitation, old food residue or dangerous pathogens can build up on utensils or equipment.
- Improper Personal Hygiene: One of the biggest causes of foodborne illness outbreaks is improperly washed hands. Good personal hygiene is essential for eliminating tens of thousands of bacteria that could otherwise be transferred to food.
- Poor Supplier Management: Every hand that touches food adds risk. This is made worse when the supplier is improperly vetted. Some suppliers fail to follow the processing rules and could add unnecessary risk to products before employees handle them.
Protecting the Customer, Protecting the Supply Chain, Protecting Your Business
Food contamination is an omnipresent risk for everyone involved. Whether you’re a farm, orchard, or pasture at the beginning of the value chain, a manufacturer or processing company, transportation company, distributor, or restaurant, you have a responsibility to protect the end user.
For nearly three decades, the Acadia team has been providing insurance solutions to businesses throughout the Northeast, delivering local expertise and support for a variety of industries. Get to know more about us and find an agent today!