Every year, about one in six Americans contracts a food borne illness, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Food-poisoning symptoms are severe enough to send 128,000 people to the hospital and to kill 3,000 annually. Bacteria, viruses, chemicals and parasites can all be the culprits.
Food borne illness happens year-round. In summer, hot days and picnics pose extra hazards. In fall and winter, holiday potlucks combine food-handling mysteries with temperature-control issues. “Most bacteria can multiply in 30 minutes,” says Marlene Janes, associate professor at the Louisiana State University Food Science Department. Bacteria love heat, whether from summer sun or your cozy house in winter. If you suddenly have abdominal pain, chills, vomiting, diarrhea and/or fever, it could be that potluck Cole slaw or an undercooked Thanksgiving turkey.
Fortunately, consumers can do a lot to minimize their chance of coming down with a food borne illness, Janes says.