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Children Most At Risk To Food-Borne Illnesses During The Holiday Season

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WASHINGTON – More than 210,000 people suffer an episode of food-borne illness every day in the Americas, including the Caribbean.

Half of those afflicted are children under five, the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) says.

With that in mind, PAHO has recommended five “keys” to safer food for the holiday season.

The organization says during the holidays, the risk of food-borne illnesses can be increased by poor handling and inadequate refrigeration of foods prepared ahead of time and in large quantities.

PAHO said the five “simple keys” to safe and healthy food are: Keep clean, separate raw and cooked, cook thoroughly, keep food at safe temperatures, and use safe water and raw materials.

“Following these five keys helps consumers know they are handling foods safely and preventing microbes from multiplying,” said Dr. Enrique Perez, PAHO senior advisor on food-borne diseases and zoonoses.

“They are simple and practical, and can be applied in people’s home, as well as in food establishments,” he added.

PAHO said food prepared and consumed at home are responsible for about a third of outbreaks of food-borne illness, adding that a large proportion of all episodes of food-borne illness are caused by bacterial contamination that results from a handful of dangerous practices.

Food contaminated by bacteria, viruses, parasites, or harmful chemicals causes over 200 diseases, from diarrhea to cancer, PAHO said.

In the Americas, it said an estimated 35 million children under the age of five suffer from these illnesses each year.

In addition to children, PAHO said pregnant women, people with compromised immune systems and older adults are more vulnerable to these types of illness.

Symptoms of food-borne illness include stomach pain, diarrhea, nausea, chills, fever and headache. In some cases, food-borne illness can be fatal.

Symptoms can appear anywhere from 30 minutes to two weeks after a person has come in contact with food-borne bacteria, although they usually appear in the first 48 hours.

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The Author

John McCarthy

John McCarthy

John McCarthy is primarily known for his investigative reporting on the U.S. Virgin Islands. A series of reports beginning in the 1990's revealed that there was everything from coliform bacteria to Cryptosporidium in locally-bottled St. Croix drinking water, according to a then-unpublished University of the Virgin Islands sampling. Another report, following Hurricane Hugo in 1989, cited a Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) confidential overview that said that over 40 percent of the U.S. Virgin Islands public lives below the poverty line. The Virgin Islands Free Press is the only Caribbean news source to regularly incorporate the findings of U.S. Freedom of Information Act requests. John's articles have appeared in the BVI Beacon, St. Croix Avis, San Juan Star and Virgin Islands Daily News. He is the former news director of WSVI-TV Channel 8 on St. Croix.

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