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September is National Food Safety Education Month

by Original Author: Dr. Pam Pruett, Mississippi County | Adapted for Blog: Torrie Smith, Carroll County

Mary (not her real name), eight weeks pregnant and her two-year old son, Tyler (not his real name) met her father and his friend at a restaurant for breakfast. As she excitedly shared the good news about her pregnancy, she took a few sips of Tyler’s orange juice. Around 8:00 p.m. that night, Tyler had diarrhea and abdominal cramping. Mary and her husband were awakened at 3:00 a.m. by Tyler’s screams. He had thrown up all over his bed and was trying to make it to the bathroom. He was running a fever of 103, and his eyes were all glassy. His abdomen was distended, and she felt his tummy gurgling when she placed her hand on it. Thus, began a ten-day nightmare Mary and her family will never forget.

Annually, 1 in 6 Americans suffer due to food poisoning/foodborne illness and most recover fully within a week.  Many people are not aware that they have or had a foodborne illness and simply called their quick decline into writhing on the bathroom floor – with fever, chills, vomiting and diarrhea – the ‘stomach flu’.  But the ailment was likely caused by contaminated food or water.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimation, in addition to the 48 million (1 in 6) American who get sick from eating or drinking contaminated food or water, 128,000 are hospitalized, and 3,000 die each year.

 Mary also became sick with diarrhea and abdominal cramping. In addition, she was nauseated and had an aching head. She spent four days holding her screaming child and watching him cry, in between trips to the bathroom. She called the hospital and was told to wait three days before bringing him in if he still had a fever and diarrhea.

On the fourth day, she took Tyler to the doctor’s office and was told it was likely just a “tummy bug.”  Concerned that he might have E. coli from fresh fruit consumed at the restaurant, she took a stool sample. The doctor checked the stool and found blood. Mary was advised to watch Tyler, and if he still felt ill in three days a culture would be requested. Mary explained she was pregnant and asked if her illness could harm the baby. The doctor said that while the stomach flu is uncomfortable for the mother, it wouldn’t harm the fetus.

A couple of days later, Mary went shopping and became violently ill with severe vomiting, blinding headache and collapsing on the bathroom floor at the shop. Her husband came and took her home. The next morning her headache was gone, but she had bleeding. After visiting her Obstetrician’s office, she was given a shot and was told she would probably suffer a miscarriage. The next day her mother-in-law shared that she had heard of an orange orchard linked to a salmonella outbreak. Eventually, it was confirmed that the orange juice Mary and Tyler had consumed at the restaurant a few days earlier was contaminated.

Mary and Tyler’s foodborne illness story is not unusual and thankfully they both recovered. Sadly, Mary’s unborn child did not. Foodborne illness should be taken very seriously. And as is often the case, the symptoms can be confused with those of a stomach virus or flu. Mary and Tyler were also in the highly vulnerable group of individuals more susceptible to foodborne illness:  children under five and pregnant women. Other highly vulnerable populations for foodborne illness include older adults (age 65+) and those with compromised immune systems.

Learning how to take steps to help prevent food poisoning and showing others how to keep food safe is important and should not be taken lightly.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention ( website on Food Safety, as you prepare and handle food, follow these four steps to help prevent foodborne illness (also called food poisoning):

Clean: Wash your hands, utensils, and surfaces often when you cook.

Separate: Raw meat, chicken, turkey, seafood, and eggs can spread germs. Separate them from cooked food and fresh produce.

Cook: Use a food thermometer to make sure foods are cooked to an internal temperature that kills germs.

Chill: Refrigerate perishable foods (foods likely to spoil or go bad quickly) and leftovers within 2 hours, or within 1 hour if the food is exposed to temperatures above 90°F (like a hot car or summer picnic).

To request additional information and programs on food safety including Serv Safe® certification classes contact your County Extension Family and Consumer Sciences Agent. Most FCS Agents are Serv Safe® Instructors and Registered Serv Safe® Examination Proctors.