Food Can Sustain Us or Poison Us!

Eight people died and 350 were admitted to a hospital from food poisoning yesterday in the United States. Over 40% of the time it was traceable to restaurants.

While environmental toxins, in our food, may catch attention, the real threat to our food safety, internationally, is microbiological.

The most serious microbiological risk is E.Coli in red meat. The prevailing opinion has been that eating bloody steak is safe and that ground meats should be thoroughly cooked. The use of “meat glue” and the practice of injection of meats with antibiotics and chemicals have changed that. E. Coli lurks in all our red meats. It poisons and kills. E Coli kills the young, the old and the debilitated.

Bacteria can cause reactive arthritis, Guillain-Barre syndrome, ulcerative colitis, hepatitis and kidney failure. Patients suffer chronic joint pain, paralysis, chronic diarrhea and the need for dialysis.

Poorly cooked seafood is the most frequently contaminated food. Sprouts should never be eaten; fruits in drinks are a huge risk. Lettuce, melons, ice, soda fountains are risky.

To impact on Food Safety, we need to understand and address causes.

  • Sick employees cause 18% of foodborne illness outbreaks.
  • Over half of food workers have worked a shift while ill.
  • Dirty hands are everywhere. The data is stunning.
    • Sixteen percent of cell phones are contaminated with stool.
    • An NIH study showed that hands washed for 15 seconds still have over 20% of bacteria and even after washing for 2 minutes 10% remain.
  • Sadly, our school cafeterias are still risky. 6% of bloody bowel infections are traced to schools.

Once we understand the cause, we can make changes.

  • Red meats and seafood need to be properly cooked.
  • Some foods need to be avoided.
  • Sick food workers should not work. Policies should be clear and enforced.
  • Gloves need to be worn during food preparation. 

The public needs to know it is their right to demand excellence!


Author: Dr. Harlan Stueven, MD

Harlan Stueven M.D. is a Board-Certified Emergency physician with sub-specialization in Environmental Toxicology and Board Certification in Medical Toxicology. Starting his career in the USAF, he served as a Flight Surgeon and Environmental Health Consultant Physician where one of his duties was monitoring food safety. In his nearly 40-year practice, he treated a range of medical, surgical and poisoning emergencies. He has been a Medical Director and/or Chairman of several hospital-based Emergency Medicine Departments, served as the President of Emergency and Environmental Medicine consulting group, a physician group Chief Financial Officer and sat on many national, state and local committees. Dr. Stueven founded Dining Grades and the Dining Safety Alliance to improve food safety by increasing awareness of food borne illness and the formation of partnerships within the food industry. He is a consultant to the Wisconsin Retail Food Establishment Grading Work Group; a Co-investigator in a CDC funded “Evaluation of Health Department Restaurant Inspection Programs” project. He has presented at several National, State and Regional conferences on restaurant grading and food safety. He is an accomplished leader, medical researcher, a champion of process improvement, author, and national and international speaker.

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