It seems like there have been a lot of stories in the paper recently about contaminated food causing problems in children. How can I protect my family?
It is hard to know how many cases of food-borne illness actually occur each year because such illnesses are difficult to track. Many individuals do not seek care when they become ill, assuming that it was a virus or something they ate. Nonetheless, it is estimated that up to 4,000 deaths and 5 million illnesses are caused annually by contaminated meat and poultry alone. Most of the illnesses are caused by four bacteria: Salmonella, E. coli type 0157: H7, Campylobacter and Listeria monocytogenes. Because it is generally known how these bacteria are spread, we can suggest some basic rules to protect your family:
Be sure to cook all ground meat thoroughly -- this destroys E. Coli bacteria.
Cook poultry thoroughly. This kills Salmonella bacteria.
Do not eat raw eggs. Some eggs can transmit the Salmonella bacteria. This extends to not allowing your children to lick the egg beaters after making a cake if you used fresh eggs. When making a Caesar salad, omit the eggs or use pasteurized egg products.
Wash all fruits and vegetables very thoroughly. Some produce may be contaminated with E. coli (as the case with some lettuce as well as some batches of apples made into apple juice). Because pasteurization kills bacteria, it is most prudent to offer only pasteurized juices. Use running water (as opposed to water in a bowl).
Be sure to use soap and water to clean up the kitchen counter, cutting board and knives and forks after carving raw meat or after contact with raw eggs. Good hand washing also prevents transmission of bacteria.
Despite the recent publicity, our food supply is quite safe, and the Food and Drug Administration is stepping up its inspection efforts. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention are also devoting resources to this effort. Nonetheless, the steps outlined above will offer an additional level of protection.
(The tips outlined above were compiled from several issues of Infectious Diseases in Children.)
Dr. Wilson is director of general pediatrics at Johns Hopkins Children's Center; Dr. Joffe is director of adolescent medicine.
Pub Date: 3/04/97