It is a well-known fact that Black patients suffer from higher rates of hypertension, diabetes, kidney disease and other chronic illnesses. While “most cases of food poisoning are not fatal and typically result in mild symptoms that resolve without medical intervention, pre-existing diseases like high blood pressure and kidney disease can lead to severe complications and death” says the World Health Organization (WHO).

Food poisoning is entirely preventable. “These dangerous and sometimes deadly outbreaks could have been prevented,” says Bill Marler, food safety lawyer and publisher of “Food Safety News.” Yet, Marler says “each year, millions in America are sickened from food-borne pathogens such as E. coli O157:H7, salmonella and listeria. The cause of the outbreak is usually a contaminated food source, an unsanitary processing or storage facility or unclean food handling,” 

Marler’s name may be unfamiliar, but the 1993 lawsuits he won on behalf of hundreds who became ill after eating contaminated Jack in the Box burgers are well-known. In addition to securing settlements worth over 50 million dollars, Marler has successfully implemented stricter inspections, better enforcement of regulations, and is credited with requiring improved testing methods to prevent foodborne illnesses. 

It is fair to say our food supply is safer because of Marler’s advocacy. Nevertheless, the integrity of our food supply should not be taken for granted. Although foodborne illnesses may not grab headlines “it is an ongoing public health problem. This is especially true for underserved patient populations suffering from high rates of chronic illnesses,” says Marler.  

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is the federal agency responsible for tracking and investigating foodborne illnesses. They operate surveillance systems, conduct outbreak investigations, and provide guidance and resources to prevent and respond to foodborne diseases.  

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Food poisoning can exacerbate symptoms and complications of various underlying diseases. While the specific impact can vary depending on individual circumstances, here are some examples of diseases that may be worsened by food poisoning from the CDC:

  • Gastrointestinal Disorders: Individuals with pre-existing gastrointestinal conditions, such as inflammatory bowel disease (Crohn’s disease, ulcerative colitis), irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), or gastroenteritis, may experience aggravated symptoms due to food poisoning. Diarrhea, abdominal pain, vomiting and overall digestive distress can be intensified.
  • Diabetes: Food poisoning can disrupt blood sugar control, potentially causing fluctuations in glucose levels in individuals with diabetes. Diarrhea and vomiting can lead to dehydration, making it challenging to maintain stable blood sugar levels. Moreover, certain bacterial infections associated with food poisoning may affect insulin production or utilization.
  • Kidney Disease: People with kidney disease, especially those on dialysis or with reduced kidney function, may face complications from food poisoning. Bacterial infections caused by foodborne pathogens can strain the kidneys and worsen renal function. Dehydration due to diarrhea and vomiting can also impact kidney health.
  • Immune Disorders: Individuals with compromised immune systems, such as those with HIV/AIDS, organ transplants, or undergoing chemotherapy, are more susceptible to severe complications from food poisoning. Their weakened immune response makes it harder to fight off the infection, potentially leading to more severe symptoms and prolonged illness.
  • Liver Disease: Liver disease, including cirrhosis, hepatitis, or fatty liver disease, can be worsened by food poisoning. Infections from certain foodborne pathogens may impair liver function and contribute to liver damage. Additionally, dehydration and electrolyte imbalances resulting from food poisoning can negatively affect the liver.

The CDC adds “It’s important to note that these conditions do not necessarily make individuals more prone to food poisoning, but rather food poisoning can worsen their existing health issues.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is responsible for protecting public health by ensuring the safety of food, drugs, and medical devices. They provide the following guidance related to food safety:

Cleanliness and Hygiene:

  • Wash hands thoroughly with soap and warm water for at least 20 seconds before handling food, after using the restroom and after touching pets.
  • Clean and sanitize kitchen surfaces, cutting boards, utensils and dishes regularly.
  • Wash fruits and vegetables under running water before consumption.

Safe Food Storage:

  • Store raw meats, poultry and seafood separately from ready-to-eat foods to prevent cross-contamination.
  • Keep the refrigerator temperature below 40°F (4°C) and freezer temperature at 0°F (-18°C) to slow down bacterial growth.
  • Refrigerate leftovers promptly (within two hours) in shallow containers to cool them quickly.

Proper Cooking:

  • Use a food thermometer to ensure that meat, poultry, seafood and egg dishes are cooked to the appropriate internal temperature to kill harmful bacteria.
  • Avoid consuming raw or undercooked eggs, meat, or seafood.

Safe Food Handling:

  • Avoid cross-contamination by using separate cutting boards and utensils for raw and ready-to-eat foods.
  • Keep raw meats, poultry, and seafood away from other foods in the shopping cart and during storage.
  • Thaw frozen food in the refrigerator, under cold running water, or in the microwave using the defrost setting.

Be cautious with High-Risk Foods:

  • Take extra care with high-risk foods such as raw or undercooked eggs, raw sprouts, unpasteurized dairy products, deli meats and refrigerated pâtés or meat spreads.

Practice Mindful Eating Out:

  • Choose reputable restaurants and food vendors that follow proper food safety practices.
  • Ensure that foods, especially meat, poultry, and seafood, are thoroughly cooked.
Jayne Hopson
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