Foodborne illnesses can be scary stuff. The severity of illnesses and outbreaks can vary based on a wide variety of factors. Lately, there have been a number of well-publicized foodborne illness outbreaks in the news, caused by foods ranging from lettuce to crackers and beyond. And though produce, grains, and dairy can certainly be the culprit of foodborne illness outbreaks, you’re likely well-aware that raw eggs and raw meat can potentially make you sick, as well.
The CDC tracks foodborne illness outbreaks and recently published a report based on outbreaks from 2009 to 2015 in its Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report (or MMWR). Researchers found that norovirus caused the highest number of outbreaks and illness, with Salmonella causing the second-highest number, but that outbreaks of Listeria, Shiga toxin-producing E. coli, and Salmonella caused most of the hospitalizations and deaths (82% of each).
They also found that chicken was responsible for approximately 12% of “outbreak-associated illnesses,” with pork coming in second and “seeded vegetables” third.
Fish and dairy were responsible for more actual outbreaks than chicken, but chicken resulted in more illnesses.
Dr. Byron Chaves-Elizondo, PhD, an assistant professor and food safety extension specialist at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, and who wasn’t affiliated with the report, told Health that one of the very important takeaways from the report is that there was a large number of outbreaks whose exact cause couldn’t be pinpointed and that though chicken makes up a large portion of outbreaks, it’s not completely disproportionate to that that other kinds of foods were found to cause.
Storage, handling, and cooking techniques are extremely important when it comes to protecting everyone from foodborne illnesses and preventing outbreaks.
Because things like norovirus can pass from person to person when someone who has it handles food , food safety training is important for those who work with food or even just cook it in their own kitchen, because no one wants to pass that along to everyone else in the house any more than someone wants to get it from eating food from a catering service, restaurant, or elsewhere.
Thomas Gremillion, the director of the Food Policy Institute at the Consumer Federation of America, told CBS News that when people improperly handle chicken — like running water over your raw chicken to rinse it off before you cook it — that can spread bacteria around your workspace, which can lead to cross-contamination issues that, yes, can potentially make you sick.
Making sure you cook your chicken properly, put it away in a refrigerator or freezer that is cold enough when you get home from the store, using different cutting boards, sauce brushes, and other utensils for raw and cooked chicken, and quickly putting away leftovers can all help minimize any potential food safety issues.
Foodborne illness outbreaks seem to continue to be a real public health issue, so knowing what might be causing them and how you can work to protect yourself from their effects is certainly important.