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CDC records show a culprit for stomach-flu after 4,600 outbreaks: about 50% are caused by norovirus, a highly contagious bug transmitted often through restaurant waiters or food handlers.

Foodborne illnesses are among one of the major priorities in United States since they can be a major threat to the health of its citizens as well as causing negative economical effects, which combined, place it at a high national security threat.

These illnesses are acquired through foods and food handling and it is generally regarded as preventable (mostly), if the regulations and the practices are adhered to. There is however only so much United States can do if food is also imported from other countries, which is often the case. One thing that can be regulated better is the food distribution practices and the labor force handling of food.

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Center for Disease Control (CDC) recent study suggests that the food industry's labor practices may be contributing to some of the nation's most common foodborne illness outbreaks, and even more than previously thought. In recent years, the Internet blogging has also played a substantial role in increasing the overall quality and safety of our food by raising awareness of food safety and food recalls as well as educating the general public regarding food illnesses.

The food industry is now attempting to test food for pathogens on a more frequent basis. As a result, more pathogens are being found and more products are being recalled.  In turn, through its reporting on outbreaks and recalls, the Internet has played a significant role in raising the overall awareness and getting the U.S. consumers to pressure the government and regulating agencies to pay far more attention to the origin, quality and safety of the food products we buy and eat.

CDC and other agencies have taken a lead in conducting more studies and researching past cases and reviewing all the records to establish cause and develop prevention regulations, if possible.  In one recent study, CDC found that about 50% of outbreaks arose from an often-ignored culprit: infected food workers.

Individuals working in the food industry (including harvesting, storage, transportation, processing, and restaurant staff), can be transmitting these illnesses through unsafe labor practices. Another more specific CDC study regarding food workers, traced possibly more than 80% of norovirus outbreaks to infected food workers. Most restaurants don’t have a policy regarding sick pay, and aren't required to pay sick leave for its food handlers, with about 77% of food workers in the United States don't have paid sick days and hence there is no way to prevent those workers from showing up at the kitchen or serve food to customers.

Food servers and restaurant staff are among the least paid workers in the United States. Since most of them work part-time and are unaware of paid sick leave policy (even though 23% of restaurant offer sick leave), or simply because they are afraid of the possibility of losing their job to someone else while they are desperate for wages they are earning – they will show up to work, sick or not. Restaurant managers would prefer to not pay for someone who does not show up since they would have to pay for someone else to do the work. Paying double is not their choice, if at all possible especially in this highly competitive market. Sick workers come to work when they should not. And it's not just flu that sick servers can spread.

Sick workers, as well as other hygiene deficient food preparation, cause some of the most awful foodborne illnesses:

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Norovirus

The viruses are transmitted through contaminated food or water and by person-to-person contact and via contaminated surfaces. Noroviruses are the most common cause of viral gastroenteritis in humans, and affect people of all ages. You can get infected through your food (prepared or handled by someone who is sick with one of these viruses), or by touching surfaces with norovirus germs on them, then putting your hands in your mouth, or from direct contact with a person with the illness.

Symptoms can begin within one to two days after exposure and usually includes vomiting and diarrhea, abdominal pain, stomach and headaches, low fever and tiredness. Sometimes people who think they have the flu really have a Noroviruse. Some estimates say that as many as 60 percent of the American population has been exposed to one of these viruses by the age of 50, and about 200,000 get sick every year. If you are infected, you can be contagious up to two weeks after recovery, so if you know you have had a norovirus, be diligent with the handwashing and don’t cook for other people during this period.

Every couple of years, a new strain of norovirus is detected, often with progressively more severe health consequences.

Listeria (Listeria monocytogenes bacteria)

Listeria is a nasty bug capable of surviving in the presence or absence of oxygen. This is a serious infection usually caused by eating food contaminated with the bacterium Listeria monocytogenes. This is a serious public health problem in the United States. The disease primarily affects older adults, pregnant women, newborns, and adults with weakened immune systems. However, other persons without these risk factors can also be affected. Pregnant women are about 20 times more likely than other healthy adults to get listeriosis, and about a third of all cases of listeria infection strike pregnant women. According to CDC, in the United States, an estimated 1,600 people get sick from Listeria germs each year. Of these, 260 die. According to CDC, about one in seven (14%) cases of Listeria infection occurs during pregnancy, which can cause fetal loss (miscarriage or stillbirth), preterm labor, and illness or death in newborn infants.

E. coli (Escherichia coli)

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E. coli strains are a large and diverse group of bacteria. Although most strains of E. coli are harmless, others can make you sick. Some kinds of E. coli can cause diarrhea, while others cause urinary tract infections, respiratory illness and pneumonia, and other illnesses.

E. coli O157:H7 (one particular strain) has been linked to ready-to-eat salads. Another (E. coli O121) was linked to frozen food products. These bacteria live in the guts of farm animals, most notably cattle, but also deer, elk, goats and sheep. In the slaughtering process the intestines can be cut, allowing the bacteria onto the meat. Recently the chicken slaughterhouses were caught for using high volume of new bacteria-killing chemicals in order to hide the presence of salmonella: http://www.seattleorganicrestaurants.com/vegan-whole-food/factory-chickens-bacteria-killing-chemicals-salmonella.php

E. coli usually doesn’t make the host animal sick, but when humans ingest it, they get infected. Vegetables that come in contact with animal feces can also be tainted with E. coli, as with the spinach outbreak in 2006, ready-to-eat salads in 2012, and frozen food products (some were vegetables), in 2013. People have also been known to get E. coli from swallowing contaminated water in restaurants, farms, zoos, and water parks.

The illness can be mild (causing diarrhea, which can be bloody, stomach cramps, vomiting and sometimes a low fever), or it can be more severe and even cause death. About 1/3 of all people who are contaminated with E. coli illness will need to be hospitalized, and unfortunately about 5 percent of those die. It’s most dangerous in children. About 5 to 10 percent of those who get infected with E. coli will develop a more serious illness, hemolytic uremic syndrome, which can lead to kidney failure.

In conclusion, there are many foodborne illnesses (including the ones described about). Individuals need to do all they can to protect themselves against acquiring or spreading these viruses. One way, is to always wash hands and another is to never use the same knife for cutting both meats and fish. We can also lobby our congress representative to pass laws and regulations that mandate sick leave for food workers so we can avoid a major outbreak that would be a potentially threatening risk to the health of the nation and the national security.

 

 

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