Foodborne illnesses are a serious public health problem that affect millions of people every year. They are caused by bacteria, viruses, parasites, or toxins that contaminate food or water. Some of the most common foodborne pathogens are Salmonella, E. coli, Listeria, Campylobacter, and Norovirus. These pathogens can cause symptoms such as diarrhea, vomiting, fever, abdominal cramps, and sometimes even death.
One of the major challenges in preventing and treating foodborne illnesses is the emergence of superbugs, which are bacteria that have become resistant to antibiotics. Superbugs can spread from animals to humans through the food chain, or from person to person through contact or contaminated surfaces. Superbugs can make infections harder to treat, increase the risk of complications, and prolong the duration of illness.
What can we do to prevent foodborne illnesses and superbugs?
There are several steps that we can take to reduce the risk of foodborne illnesses and superbugs, both at the individual and the collective level. Here are some of them:
- Wash your hands before and after handling food, especially raw meat, poultry, eggs, and seafood. Use soap and water and scrub for at least 20 seconds. Also wash your hands after using the bathroom, changing diapers, touching animals, or handling garbage.
- Cook food thoroughly to kill any harmful bacteria that may be present. Use a food thermometer to check the internal temperature of meat, poultry, and seafood. The safe minimum temperatures are 145°F for beef, pork, lamb, and veal; 160°F for ground meat; 165°F for poultry; and 145°F for fish and shellfish. Cook eggs until the yolk and white are firm, and reheat leftovers to 165°F.
- Keep food at safe temperatures to prevent the growth of bacteria. Refrigerate or freeze perishable food within two hours of buying or cooking it. Keep the refrigerator below 40°F and the freezer below 0°F. Thaw frozen food in the refrigerator, in cold water, or in the microwave, but not on the counter. Do not leave food out of the refrigerator for more than two hours, or one hour if the temperature is above 90°F.
- Avoid cross-contamination between raw and cooked food, or between different types of food. Use separate cutting boards, utensils, and plates for raw meat, poultry, eggs, and seafood, and wash them with hot soapy water after each use. Do not rinse raw meat or poultry, as this can spread bacteria to the sink and other surfaces. Store raw meat, poultry, eggs, and seafood on the bottom shelf of the refrigerator, away from ready-to-eat food.
- Choose food carefully and check the labels, dates, and packaging of the products you buy. Avoid food that is past its expiration date, has signs of spoilage, or has damaged or swollen packaging. Buy food from reputable sources and avoid street vendors or unregulated markets. Choose organic, antibiotic-free, or hormone-free meat, poultry, eggs, and dairy products, if possible. Wash fruits and vegetables under running water and peel or cut off bruised or damaged parts.
How can we fight against superbugs?
In addition to preventing foodborne illnesses, we can also help fight against superbugs by using antibiotics responsibly and supporting research and innovation. Here are some ways to do that:
- Do not use antibiotics unless prescribed by a doctor and follow the instructions carefully. Do not take antibiotics for viral infections, such as colds or flu, as they will not work and may cause side effects. Do not skip doses, stop taking antibiotics before the course is finished, or share antibiotics with others. These practices can lead to antibiotic resistance and make the drugs less effective.
- Do not use antibiotics in animals unless necessary and follow the guidelines of the veterinary authorities. Antibiotics should not be used for growth promotion or disease prevention in healthy animals, as this can create superbugs that can infect humans. Antibiotics should only be used for treating sick animals or under specific circumstances, such as during surgery or vaccination. Antibiotics should be administered by a veterinarian or under their supervision, and the dosage and duration should be appropriate for the condition and the animal.
- Support research and innovation to develop new antibiotics, vaccines, diagnostics, and alternative treatments for bacterial infections. Superbugs pose a serious threat to human health and the economy, and there is an urgent need for new solutions to combat them. Research and innovation can help discover new ways to prevent, detect, and treat infections, and reduce the dependence on antibiotics. You can support research and innovation by donating to organizations, participating in clinical trials, or advocating for policies that promote scientific progress.
Foodborne illnesses and superbugs are two interrelated challenges that affect millions of people every year. They can cause serious health problems, such as diarrhea, vomiting, fever, abdominal cramps, and sometimes even death. They can also make infections harder to treat, increase the risk of complications, and prolong the duration of illness. However, we can prevent foodborne illnesses and fight against superbugs by following some simple steps, such as washing our hands, cooking food thoroughly, keeping food at safe temperatures, avoiding cross-contamination, choosing food carefully, using antibiotics responsibly, and supporting research and innovation. By doing so, we can protect ourselves, our families, and our communities from these threats, and ensure a safer and healthier future for everyone.