Skip to main content

By Robin Allen

I recently read with sadness the news about the Thanksgiving Church dinner for 800 at an American Legion Hall in California.  The dinner resulted in 19 illnesses including 3 deaths due to foodborne illness.  What was supposed to be a wonderful event ended up in tragedy due to unsafe food handling. This reminded me that “tis the season” when it is so important to practice food safety.  The deaths were caused by Clostridium perfringens, a bacteria occurring in undercooked meats left to sit for long periods of time.  Most of the foods were prepared at homes and then served at the Legion.  No permits were obtained for the event which would have prohibited the use of food brought from home.

After doing some research, I read about the top 10 most important foodborne outbreaks in 2016 which resulted in 10 deaths, not including the Thanksgiving Church dinner. The outbreaks included salmonella, listeria, and Hepatitis A and E. coli.

According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), there are new challenges to food safety that will continue to emerge, these are:

“Changes in our food production and supply, including more imported foods.” The FDA is expanding its overseas presence in China, India, Africa, Asia, Latin America Middle East and Europe to make sure imported products meet U.S. standards.

“Changes in the environment leading to food contamination.”  According to an FAO and a UN report, climate change may have implications for food production and food safety. Seafood safety may be effected by an increase in toxic algal blooms, promoting the growth of deadly Vibrio vulnificus, a bacteria found in raw or undercooked seafood, especially in warmer waters.  Spikes in temperature and humidity may increase the prevalence of common foodborne diseases like Salmonella and Campylobacter and pathogens like E. coli and Salmonella are likely to become more virulent.

Better identification of multistate outbreaks. Formal reporting systems have played an important role in outbreak detection. Foodborne illnesses must be reported when diagnosed so public health officials can notice trends and follow up. State laboratories conduct further tests, and DNA fingerprinting identifies the bacteria’s specific genetic pattern or DNA fingerprint indicating a possible outbreak. Bacteria can have thousands of different patterns. State laboratories report their DNA results to the PulseNet database, which is coordinated by the CDC.

“New and emerging bacteria, toxins, and antibiotic resistance.”  Antibiotic resistance to “Salmonella and Campylobacter, are two of the many bacteria commonly transmitted through food.  These bacteria cause an estimated 410,000 antibiotic-resistant infections in the United States each year.

“Changes in consumer preferences and habits.” “Back to nature” foods are what many Americans want to consume.  Shopping at farmer’s markets, purchasing organic food, participating in food cooperatives (or co-ops), and even growing our own food has become more common. Also, many people are eating food with minimal processing.  Raw milk products, which has not been pasteurized pose severe health risks. Raw milk can contain CampylobacterE. coliListeria, and Salmonella.

Changes in the tests that diagnose foodborne illness.” Culture-independent diagnostic tests (CIDTs) are changing the way that clinical laboratories diagnose patients with foodborne illness. These tests can identify the general type of bacteria causing illness within hours, without having to culture or grow the bacteria in a laboratory.

Remember, contamination may occur at any point during the food production supply chain: production (contaminated water), processing (cleaning, roasting, slaughtering), distribution (poor handling during transportation), or preparation (sick employees, improper food handling).

This blog is a reminder to follow the basic food safety guidelines:  Clean, Separate, Cook, Chill. Buy yourself a food thermometer and keep hot food hot (above 140 degrees)and cold food cold,  (below 40 degrees). Do not let food remain at room temperature for longer than 2 hours. Check out for a list of cooking temperatures and tips on food safety.

For more information on food safety and foodborne illness visit the CDC web site.

This was posted by Robin Allen, a member of OneOp (MFLN) Nutrition and Wellness team that aims to support the development of professionals working with military families.  Find out more about the OneOp Nutrition and Wellness concentration on our website, on Facebookon Twitterand LinkedIn.