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Doctors Being Schooled on Foodborne Illnesses

Washing fruit and vegetables before eating them is one way to avoid foodborne illness. (
Washing fruit and vegetables before eating them is one way to avoid foodborne illness. (
March 1, 2018

SPRINGFIELD, Ill. — March is the month many people start planning vacations as spring is around the corner, and summer's just a few months away. And health advocates say it's not too early to start thinking about food safety, especially if you're going out of the country.

Dierdre Schlunegger, CEO of the group Stop Foodborne Illness, observed that all-inclusive resorts can have many perks, including buffets. But, she said there's a risk when food is served over a long period of time, because there are more opportunities for the dishes not be kept at consistent, correct temperatures.

"From cooking at home and from going out to restaurants, to eating at a buffet or a church picnic, or dinner, it doesn't seem to discriminate,” Schlunegger said. “It can happen in just any environment."

Tips to avoid getting sick include washing your hands thoroughly and frequently, and separating kitchen utensils and cutting boards that are used for meat - especially poultry.

Schlunegger said every year in the U.S., 4 million people get sick from foodborne illnesses, more than 100,000 are hospitalized, and more than 3,000 die. She said most people don't even realize they have a foodborne illness - they often blame the sickness on a “stomach bug.”

Stop Foodborne Illness is a national nonprofit based in Chicago that was started about a quarter century ago, after an e.coli outbreak on the West Coast. Schlunegger said they work to educate the public about food hazards, and have recently released an educational video for doctors and emergency room workers.

"There's also a need to really educate those first-line physicians in the emergency department who are seeing foodborne illness,” she said; “because they may not see it often enough to recognize it, and it's so important to quickly get care."

Federal researchers have identified more than 250 foodborne diseases. Most of them are infections caused by a variety of bacteria, viruses and parasites. But Schlunegger said harmful toxins and chemicals also can contaminate food.

Veronica Carter, Public News Service - IL