If you’ve been following California food safety news this past year, you might have heard a few things about Listeria, E. coli, and Salmonella. In case you didn’t know, these seriously dangerous foodborne pathogens have been doing their best to contaminate food and make consumers very sick. Think: nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea being the best case scenario—yikes. These symptoms alone should be a very convincing reason for you to know the food hazards prevalent in California and how to improve the food safety culture in your realm of influence.
So, here we go on a mini-journey through the lowlights of California food safety, starting with Listeria. Listeria is a type of bacteria sometimes found in foods such as raw meat, soft cheeses, and melons. Serious cases of listeriosis aren’t that common, but when developed in those with weakened immune systems, an infection can be particularly life-threatening. Last year, a California manufacturing facility distributed soft cheeses contaminated with Listeria, which led to the hospitalizations of 28 people and the deaths of 3 people. You can protect yourself and those you serve from Listeria by cooking meats to their proper temperatures and by washing all raw vegetables and fruits. Take time to learn about cross-contamination as well as other food safety practices.
The next stop on our food safety exploration is E. coli. The foods most commonly associated with illness caused by E. coli are beef, milk, and produce that has been contaminated. A healthy immune system will usually eliminate the infection in about a week; however, more vulnerable victims may need to be hospitalized. In the past few years, there have been some major E. coli outbreaks linked to California foods. One major outbreak occurred in 2006 when contaminated baby spinach grown in California resulted in 205 illnesses and 3 deaths. A more recent outbreak in 2016 has been linked to organic raw milk sold from an organic dairy in Fresno, California. California officials confirmed that at least ten people were infected with the outbreak strain. One of the best ways for food handlers to avoid spreading E.coli is to practice proper hygiene, especially good hand washing. Again, always cook meats to their proper temperatures and do everything you can to avoid cross-contamination.
Salmonella is the last bacteria we will explore. Salmonellosis is the most common bacterial foodborne illness in the United States. Foods often associated with salmonella include meat, poultry, eggs, but any food is capable of being contaminated. It is typical for symptoms to fade out after about a week; however, infections can become quite severe, leading to hospitalization and death. Salmonella outbreaks happen far too often in the state of California. At the end of last year, a produce company based in San Diego, California distributed cucumbers contaminated with Salmonella, resulting in 191 hospitalizations and 6 deaths. The steps for preventing Salmonella are the same as with any other foodborne illness. Be sure to cook foods thoroughly, wash your hands and work surfaces, and be particularly careful with foods prepared for those with weakened immune systems.
There you have it—three very small (microscopic, even!) but dangerous foodborne pathogens prevalent in California. No wonder nearly all one million food workers in California are required to have food safety training! Food handlers are responsible for ensuring that food is kept safe from the hazards it can encounter at every level of its preparation. Be aware of the threats to food safety in your area and how you can improve your food safety culture.