May 5, 2022 – Warm weather is finally coming to Michigan and that means the start of the picnic and barbecue season. The Michigan Department of Agriculture and Rural Development (MDARD) is reminding consumers to take precautions when preparing, holding, and serving foods in warmer weather to prevent foodborne illness.
“Food which hasn’t been cooked or stored properly can cause mild foodborne illness, but it can also lead to serious illness or even death,” said Tim Slawinski, MDARD’s Food and Dairy Division Director. “Whether you’re packing a picnic for a sporting event or outdoor recreation, or planning a backyard barbecue, it’s crucial to follow simple food safety tips to protect your family and friends from foodborne illness.”
Easy steps, like washing your hands often; doing as much of the food preparation at home as possible; packing your cooler with plenty of ice and in a way that prevents cross-contamination from raw foods to cooked or ready-to-eat foods; and keeping hot foods hot and cold foods cold; can go a long way toward preventing foodborne illness. For more information and food safety tips, visit Food Facts From the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (fda.gov).
Food safety is a team effort, from the farm to your plate and sometimes despite best intentions, people can get sick. When this happens, it is important to report suspected foodborne illness to your local health department.
“The increasingly globalized and complex nature of our food supply requires us and our food safety partners to work more closely than ever to rapidly detect, investigate, and control food contamination incidents,” said Slawinski. “MDARD and Michigan’s 45 local health departments provide the front-line investigators for foodborne illness investigations. Staff often coordinates activities with local, state, and federal government and the private sector.”
Reporting an illness starts an investigative process at the local health department level to identify the source of illness. Local health departments are required to report suspected foodborne illnesses and outbreaks to the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services (MDHHS) and MDARD. Local health departments work with people who have become ill and MDHHS to collect information and test samples to identify the cause of illness.
“Food sanitarians from Michigan’s 45 local health departments work closely with restaurants, cafeterias, food vendors at fairs and festivals, and other food service businesses, to ensure food safety,” said Norm Hess, executive director, Michigan Association for Local Public Health. “Consumers also play an important role in keeping their food safe from the store or restaurant to the plate, and in reporting any suspected foodborne illness to their local health department. We don’t want any summer events to be ruined by foodborne illness.”
If a commercial food item or food business is the suspected source of contamination, MDARD inspectors work with state and local public health officials to determine where suspect food came from and may collect food and environmental samples to aid in the investigation. If the source of a food product is identified, inspectors investigate facilities along the food supply chain to determine where and how the food could have been contaminated and determine steps for preventing future issues. The company may initiate a product recall if a product is linked to the illness, to remove suspected product from commerce, or MDARD may issue a consumer advisory to warn consumers of a potential problem.
Federal partners at the CDC are important players in foodborne illness outbreaks to determine if there is a pattern of illnesses in other parts of Michigan, other states, or other countries. Whole genome sequencing (WGS) can identify whether an outbreak is tied genetically to other current or past illness outbreaks. If an illness is linked to a food processor that is inspected by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration or U.S. Department of Agriculture, or the products are shipped to other states or countries for sale, these federal agencies play lead roles in the investigation and response effort.
If you suspect you have eaten something that has made you ill, please seek medical attention and report your illness to your local health department. Your doctor can assist with this process, or you can contact your local health department directly.
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