Foodborne illness is any type of illness generated from food we consume that contains unwanted bacteria, viruses or other pests like salmonella, E. Coli, campylobacter, listeria, fruit flies and a host of other unwanted pathogens.
Different from a simple stomach virus (norovirus) that can be remarkably unpleasant and cause acute discomfort but that usually passes in a day or two, a foodborne illness can become a serious matter that can land an unfortunate victim in the hospital, lead to lasting repercussions including long-term organ damage – or worse. The CDC estimates that nearly 50 million Americans are sickened by foodborne illness every year.
While we often think of meat and poultry as principal sources of foodborne illness, untreated or incorrectly treated fruits and vegetables are major carriers of pathogens as well. Here we review how to properly handle and manage produce to minimize the risk of foodborne illness.
The Root Causes of Contaminated Foods
There are a number of ways food can become contaminated, stemming from multiple touchpoints across the entire food production chain.
Starting with the farming process, fruits and vegetables can become tainted by bacteria and viruses through cross-contamination with other produce or livestock, runoff from other farms or even contaminated soil and water sources. Insects may also arrive uninvited on produce, bringing with them pathogens from other locations.
Unless produce is properly treated, many of those pathogens – almost always invisible to the naked eye – continue to ride along (and multiply) with the produce as it makes its way from farm to distributor to retailer and ultimately to the consumer.
Safely Handling Produce at Home
When cooking at home, proper sanitation such as handwashing and storing produce at the correct temperature is of paramount importance.
Cooking kills many foodborne pathogens, but a large proportion of fruits and vegetables are consumed raw and also have the opportunity to cross-contaminate other foods and even surfaces in a home, laying the groundwork for illness for an entire household.
Ensuring that produce is free from pathogens at the source is the foundation of smart retail shopping. Consumers should insist that their produce undergo proper pathogen elimination treatments, before it even reaches the home.
Mitigating the Risk of Contamination in Farming
There are a number of ways that farmers can minimize potential for contamination from pathogens, such as separating farmland close to areas where animals or manure are stored, avoiding areas which flood frequently and testing water sources such as wells. Prudent farms even limit wild animal access to minimize the potential for cross-contamination.
Making sure that fertilizers and other soil amendments are treated and from reputable vendors also remains essential.
Safety in Professional Food Preparation
Outside the home, most restaurants and other food-service establishments are required to follow strict guidelines to reduce the risk of foodborne illness. But not all do, and even when professional food preparers closely follow the rules there are still frequent opportunities for contamination.
In some locations, restaurants are scored with food-handling grades which alert a consumer to the perceived degree of safety from consuming in that establishment, however that doesn’t always help, especially in the case of raw foods like fruit smoothies or salads. This is also a historical rating that may bear little resemblance to actual present conditions.
A consumer may be alerted to avoid foodborne illness if something tastes odd or seems undercooked. But many pathogens are invisible, odorless and tasteless microbes. Even just a few bacteria can be fruitful and multiply to cause a major illness.
Now more than ever restaurant purchasing managers must carefully choose their providers and insist that produce is treated effectively before entering their establishments. Reputationally, an outbreak of a foodborne illness can have devastating consequences for a restaurant.
The Promise of Electronic Cold Pasteurization
Even the most cautious home consumer or food establishment procurement team can’t control all production circumstances to eliminate what are in many cases colorless, odorless and invisible pathogens. This is why it’s important to stop foodborne illness before it begins.
Traditional treatment technologies for eliminating pests and pathogens have varying levels of effectiveness, but many result in damage to produce or introduce harmful chemicals or other toxins that consumers want to avoid.
Fortunately, Reveam’s Electronic Cold-Pasteurization (ECP™) treatment safely and effectively eliminates pests such as fruit flies and destroys pathogens like listeria and salmonella, while also killing bacteria and molds that spoil food.
Reveam is dedicated to replacing dangerous chemicals and outdated treatment methods by providing a proprietary solution to the food industry and beyond. Operating out of its Atlanta, GA headquarters and Rio Grande Valley, TX Electronic Cold-Pasteurization™ (ECP™) processing facility, the company works with growers, customs brokers, wholesalers, distributors, food service providers and retailers to improve safety and quality across the produce supply chain. Patented ECP™ and comprehensive logistics services enable Reveam to eliminate harmful pests, extend product shelf-life, enhance fresh food taste and appearance and reduce compliance costs. Learn more at www.reveam.com