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Food & Food Safety

By TRINITY CAREY

Journal Staff Writer

An estimated 48 million people get sick from foodborne illnesses, 128,000 are hospitalized and 3,000 die each year in the United States, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

To allow for better and more rapid response to food safety issues, representatives from area health departments, the Michigan Department of Agriculture and Rural Development, the Food and Drug Administration and the United States Department of Agriculture met Tuesday and Wednesday for a conference at the Ramada Inn of Marquette.

The conference was an opportunity for states to connect and share information with other agencies on how to respond quickly and effectively when food safety issues arise.

“Michigan was one of the first six states in the Food and Drug Administration Rapid Response Team program, which was federal funding recognizing that we have to build up capacity at the local and state levels across the country to be better at detecting, responding and ultimately preventing foodborne illness,” said Brad Deacon, emergency management coordinator for MDARD.

The state of Michigan has made great progress in its response efforts since joining the program 10 years ago, Deacon said, but foodborne illnesses know no state lines, so information sharing and coordination among states is imperative.

Representatives from the states of Iowa, Wisconsin, Minnesota, Missouri, Indiana and Michigan discussed preparedness exercises, procedures to take during the early stages of illness reports and conducting interviews to pinpoint the source of an illness. Where have you traveled and what have you eaten in the last three days are typical questions asked to those who have contracted illnesses. It’s often thought that the last thing one ate is what caused an illness, but some diseases take longer to show symptoms, can come from petting zoo animals, unpasteurized cider or even pig ear treats in pet stores.

“We’re really public health and food safety detectives trying to break the case,” Deacon said.

State teams also went through different scenarios to discuss how their state would approach reports of an illness.

“As we go through the day we’ll talk more about how different states shakeout, what actions they take,” Deacon said. “We’re all working as fast as possible to figure out what’s wrong to see if there’s anything we can do to keep anyone else from getting sick … The key part of having a rapid response is being able to then take some sort of action to prevent people from getting sick and potentially prevent deaths. That’s the reason why we’re here and, frankly, why our agencies exist.”

There are some basic tips everyone should follow to help stop the spread of foodborne illnesses, Deacon said.

“One of the biggest ones is washing your hands and really being aware of what you’ve touched, whether it’s in food preparation or other things. Some of those fundamental public health core messages usually starts with washing your hands,” he said. “Washing your hands; covering your cough; knowing about, especially as we’re clinging to grilling season, summer’s not over yet, but that cross contamination ends up being a major risk factor: Put the burgers back on the plate they came out on; if there was a pathogen, you could cook it out and then reintroduce it. Being aware of those kinds of core basic components really can help.”

The USDA notes four easy steps on its website for preventing the spread of illnesses: clean — wash hands and surfaces often; separate — don’t cross contaminate; cook — cook to proper temperatures; chill — refrigerate promptly.

Other tips include wearing gloves when cooking if you have a cut, sanitizing cutting boards, washing a food thermometer after each use and keeping pets and household cleaners and chemicals away from surfaces used for food.

Trinity Carey can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 206. Her email address is tcarey@miningjournal.net.

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