Back in early 2018, five people lost their lives due to E. coli contamination found in romaine lettuce and another 200 or so fell violently ill. Fast-forward to the end of the year and there was another major romaine lettuce scare that caused the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to recall the greens from basically all shelves. But wait — there was also a ground beef recall around the same time due to a salmonella scare.
Why is it that foodborne illness stories are seemingly on the rise lately? Nutrition trends and general food culture across the U.S. are to blame, at least in part.
Eating Green & Turning Green
Today, everyone wants to eat healthy. Whether you're in trendy New York City or a small town upstate, you're going to see plenty of eateries serving up salads, fresh fruits, and other greens instead of pizza, burgers, fries, and other traditional staple foods. Ironically, though, people who are trying to eat for good health might be the ones most likely to endanger it.
E. coli and other dangerous bacteria cannot stand the heat of a cooking fire for long. But vegetables, fruits, and other greens that never get cooked offer safe harbor to these foodborne bacteria, which explains why romaine lettuce alone put millions of Americans in danger twice in one year. The problem is exacerbated by the popularity of bagged salads you can get from most any grocery store. The closed, moist environment of a bagged salad is the perfect place for bacteria to grow. The mix of greens in one bag also makes it very difficult for food inspectors to pinpoint where a bacterial strain originates. Was it the spinach or the carrots in your spring mix that made people sick? The answer is not clear.
Eating Recklessly, Not Adventurously
Everyone with a social media account likes to fashion themselves as an “adventurous eater” who is willing and eager to try new foods from new cultures. However, there's a difference between eating adventurously and eating recklessly. People who expose themselves to food prepared in unique or unusual settings can be at a higher risk of contracting a foodborne illness than locals, who naturally have a resistance to bacteria or contaminants found in the food or the kitchen.
Imported food popularity is also rising as people want to post pictures of their meals more and more often. The problem here is the Food and Drug Administration's (FDA) limited oversight on imported foods. Only 1% or so of imported foods actually get inspected by the FDA, which allows for countless tons of contaminated food to slip by and into grocery stores and restaurants from coast-to-coast.
Increased Understanding Causes a Rise in Recognition
Another reason why foodborne illness reports are on the rise is a gradually and consistently strengthening of our collective scientific understanding of foodborne illnesses and bacteria. As the CDC improves its testing, analysis, and tracking methods for contaminated foods, it becomes easier to identify strains, sources, and the like. The end result is more news groups are ready to report on an E. coli outbreak, which will catch your attention more readily than a random news story about a few people getting sick from an unknown illness. That is to say, the problem of foodborne illnesses is increasing, but so is your awareness of them, which makes the situation seem all the direr.
Stopping Foodborne Illnesses at Home
Eating out at a restaurant with a low health code rating – essentially anything under an A – will predictably raise your chances of eating some contaminated food. Yet, the CDC warns us that food poisoning usually happens right in the home.
Here are four must-know tips from the CDC to avoid foodborne illness in your own kitchen:
- Clean: Wash your hands and all surfaces often and as many times as needed before, during, and after you cook.
- Keep apart: Never place meat and produce on the same surface, bowl, tray, etc. until all food items are fully prepared and ready to serve. You should also never place cooked food where raw food had been, as this spikes your chances of cross-contamination.
- Cook: Fully cook all food to the recommended temperature. Consider eating all your meats “well done.” You can add seasoning or salt to improve the flavor if you think well done meat lacks taste compared to other temperature methods.
- Chill: As soon as you know you are done eating a dish, pack it up and put it in the fridge. Consume all leftovers in your fridge soon – usually within the next two days at most.
Did You Get Sick After Eating Out?
No matter how careful you are in your own kitchen, you can't control the hygiene practiced at your favorite eateries. If you end up getting violently ill from a restaurant or food product, then you might have the option to pursue damages. For example, if you need hospitalization due to an E. coli-triggered illness, then you might be able to file a claim for those damages, the wages you lost due to being in the hospital, and noneconomic damages related to your pain and suffering.
Call (212) 566-1000 to connect with Sullivan & Brill, LLP and our New York City foodborne illness attorneys. We can hear the key details of your case during a free initial consultation and help determine if you should file a claim against the eatery or food supplier that got you sick. Contact us now to begin.