The numbers are in and it’s a good news-bad news situation. Let’s focus on the positive first: The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released the numbers last week and meat-related foodborne illnesses have decreased since they started paying close attention to what was happening in relation to these sicknesses caused by our food, in the mid-nineties. That’s good news. Unfortunately, when looking at Salmonella and other new bacteria that are making their way onto the scene, the big picture of food poisoning isn’t looking as bright : Overall, food poisoning cases are on the rise.
Salmonella poisoning, a dangerous bacteria that many of us are familiar with, is the most popular cause of food poisoning, accounting for 40% of all reported cases. Last year, there were 7,800 reports, 33 deaths, with an estimated 200,000 unreported cases. The existence of salmonella in restaurant kitchens can be the result of uncooked or undercooked meat, and the bacteria is also—yep, you guessed it—carried and transmitted by rodents. It’s one of the reasons why that monthly pest-control service is so critical for commercial food establishments; vermin cannot be traipsing across food or food storage and prep areas.
Campylobacter is another bacteria that has made a surge in recent years. Also contracted by uncooked or undercooked meat and able to be transmitted by animals, 35% of reported food poisoning cases are now being blamed on this scourge; the CDC claims that six of the 7,000 cases reported in 2012 resulted in death. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates there are 25 to 30 unreported food poisoning events for every one that is recorded.
The way the stats look, the CDC believes that, every year, 48 million people in the United States (that’s one out of every six people) actually suffers food poisoning due to contamination. Out of those millions of people, approximately 3,000 die from the infection each year.
Congress has been working with the FDA over the past couple of years to reduce foodborne illnesses at the manufacturing and farming stage. That’s a positive initiative that will hopefully decrease these numbers somewhat. What Congress can’t control is the handling of food and the environment of the food once it reaches its destination. That’s where the public must be a catalyst for change.
In so many states, due to budget cutbacks and lack of funds, restaurant kitchens and other food service establishments are only inspected once every three to five years. It’s just the reality of the situation, but it doesn’t mean that there aren’t solutions. We can ask the restaurants to provide visibility on their conditions; no one wants a brutal dose of Salmonella or Campylobacter poisoning! We must ask the questions; it really has become a life or death matter.