Dr. Larry Weighs in on Mysterious Food Borne Illness Outbreak
Following a Thanksgiving Day meal, three people have died with 14 others seriously sick from a mysterious food borne illness. The cause of the deaths and illnesses has yet to be identified by state health officials.
835 people ate the same Thanksgiving meal put on by the Golden Hills Community Church at the local American Legion Hall in Antioch, CA, but only 17 people fell ill. All of these people reside at the same assisted living center in Antioch.
“We will not call this an outbreak unless we have someone else getting sick that does not live with them,” Dr. Marilyn Underwood, the County Environmental Health Director said in an early statement. At that time, only eight people had fallen ill, including the three people who died from the food borne illness.
The CDC was called in to help identify the cause of the illness as the number of sickened individuals rose and the source of the outbreak still hadn’t been found.
In a recent interview, Dr. Larry Burchett was asked for his professional opinion on the potential source of the mysterious food borne illness that cost three people their lives and sickened several more. Dr. Larry confirmed that this would have to be a less-common food borne illness caused by a more serious strain of bacteria.
The timeframe in which people experience food borne illness symptoms varies depending on the type of bacteria they ingest, Dr. Larry says. For example, common strains of bacteria such as staph can come from mayo or salad dressing that’s been sitting out too long, and a person who ingests that bacteria would likely experience symptoms within 6 to 12 hours.
Salmonella, another common food borne illness, consists of bacteria that take longer to incubate in the human body before the person would experience symptoms — close to 48 hours later. Salmonella is commonly found in undercooked meats such as poultry, or when food has been left out too long.
State health experts speculate that the cause of this food borne illness outbreak may be from undercooked meat or meat that had been left out for several hours, due to the severity of the symptoms.
How Common are Food Borne Illnesses?
A person dying of food borne illness in the U.S. is relatively uncommon. However, according to Dr. Larry, hundreds, “maybe even thousands,” of people come into his E.R. with symptoms such as diarrhea from food that was prepared or stored incorrectly.
“Of the 50 million people that get sick from food, only five thousand die every year,” Dr. Larry said. Although, Dr. Larry cautions, “It does happen. It’s not unheard of.”
The real mystery is: was it the Thanksgiving meal at the Legion Hall or a meal at the assisted living facility that caused the food borne illness outbreak?
Dr. Larry agreed that this tragic incident raises some questions. Why didn’t more people at the care facility get sick if the illness originated from one of their meals?
With autopsies being performed and samples taken from the other people who fell ill, Dr. Larry believes that the California Department of Public Health will be able to figure out what caused the food borne illnesses. The best way to prevent incidents like this from happening in the future is to educate the public about the absolute necessity of food safety.
About 21 types of food borne illnesses have already been ruled out as the culprit so far, including e coli, salmonella and norovirus. These findings are consistent with Dr. Larry’s original hypothesis that the strain of bacteria would have to be more serious than these common types of food borne illness-causing bacteria.
CDC officials reported that all three of the people who died from this food borne illness had similar “intestinal abnormalities” found in their autopsy analyses, likely as a result from the mystery bacteria’s effects.
How to Prevent Food Borne Illness from Spreading in Your Own Home
According to Dr. Larry, the three most common causes of bacterial contamination in your own kitchen that could lead to food borne illnesses are:
1. Improper preparation of food
“Cook the food thoroughly,” Dr. Larry cautions. Check to make sure that meats have reached their proper minimum internal temperatures to kill off most strains of illness-causing bacteria. Also ensure that food hasn’t been left out at room temperature for more than two hours, and don’t serve food that was prepared more than a day ago.
2. Neglecting kitchen hygiene
Dr. Larry reminds everyone at home to practice good kitchen hygiene. “Wash your hands when preparing food,” is a good start, according to Dr. Larry. Wash your hands correctly before, during (especially between handling raw meat or eggs and handling other foods or cooking surfaces) and after food preparation. Thoroughly cleaning food prep surfaces and utensils before, during and after cooking is also essential to prevent cross contamination that could lead to serious illnesses. Take extra care with raw meats!
3. Cooking when you’ve been sick
Fecal-oral contamination in your kitchen is far more common than you think, especially if you or a family member has recently been sick. The illness-causing bacteria found in bodily fluids can live on our hands, clothes and the surfaces we touch for hours. Frequent hand-washing is a good precaution to take, but the best way to prevent fecal-oral food borne illnesses such as norovirus is to stay away from the kitchen for now.
By follow Dr. Larry’s three tips for avoiding common food borne illnesses, you can prevent illness in your own kitchen and promote better food safety.