Sunburn and bug bites are not the only hazards you may encounter this summer at the beach or at a picnic. During the summer season, we emergency doctors see a spike in food-borne illnesses – more commonly known as food poisoning.
There are 2 factors that contribute to this rise and provide the perfect environment for bacteria to grow and multiply on food. First, summer’s warmer weather and humidity increase the amount of germs or bacteria that naturally grow in water, air and soil. Secondly, when we are dining outdoors, we don’t have refrigeration’s well-controlled temperatures and cooking on the grill is not as temperature regulated as an oven.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), even though food poisonings are underreported, they estimate about 76 million cases occur every year. Thankfully most cases are mild, but about 325,000 people require hospitalization and about 5,000 people die each year from food poisoning.
There is also a financial cost to food-borne illnesses. A report published from a research project funded by the Pew Charitable Trusts found that about $152 billion a year is spent in healthcare and other losses due to food poisoning. That means on average food-borne illnesses cost each American about $500 per year.
Certain bacterial infections that cause food poisoning are reportable to public health departments, such as Salmonella or E Coli O157:H7. Additionally, outbreaks as defined by each state can be reported to public health departments. For example, in the Maryland an outbreak is defined as 2 affected people not in the same household who have shared a common meal. Emergency physicians and the labs that diagnose these conditions usually do report to public health officials. Health departments also keep track and log individual’s calls and complaints. Then local health departments coordinate with state health departments and national authorities if need be, as was seen in the recent case of Salmonella food poisoning that was tracked back to a Georgia peanut product factory. This communicative chain is how public health officials keep our food supply safe.