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Wash your hands!

It’s been a year of numerous food recalls and foodborne illnesses.

The first big scare was Romaine lettuce. It spead all over the United States. Although the Center for Disease Control says the outbreak officially ended June 28, more than 200 people were sickened with E. coli. Ninety-six people were hospitalized and five people died.

It was traced to the Yuma, Ariz., growing area. The E. coli bacteria could have entered waterways or it could have been from workers not washing their hands.

The CDC recommends, among other things, washing all fruits and vegetables before eating or cutting them, and washing your hands both before and after handling.

Remember the salmonella outbreak in chicken? It has never gone away. The high demand has led to production practices that are often unsanitary. And the widespread use of antibiotics in livestock has created new bacteria that is resistant to treatment.

The CDC and U.S. Department of Agriculture have also developed new tests that can detect pathogens in food, as well.  As we learn more about food safety and more people handle our food, we have had to set safe practices for everyone, from the farm worker to the home cook.

One important lesson: Don’t wash any meat before cooking it. That just spreads bacteria.

When salmonella first became a problem, the food scientists at the University of Florida fielded a call from a woman who was going to wash her chicken in bleach before cooking.

That’s not the answer.

The answer is washing your hands before and after handling meat and poultry, and keeping knives and cutting boards separate and clean.

Most of us know what a case of food poisoning can do — diarrhea, vomiting, stomach cramps. But how many of us look to our own handling practices as the culprit?

The CDC says some of the most common germs are norovirus, salmonella, staph, Clostridium perfringens (undercooked or raw meat), campylobactor. If those sound scary, and they are, more serious infections can occur from botulism, listeria, E. coli and vibrio (from undercooked shellfish).

And the recent hepatitis A scare in Charlotte, again, resulted from improper handwashing.

Hepatitis A is a very contagious liver infection. Most people recover from it with no problem, but it can lead to permanent liver damage.

The top way to prevent its spread is to wash your hands frequently.

As more and more people handle the food we eat, and more of it is grown in huge commercial operations, it’s more important than ever to take precautions at home or to buy your food from someone you know and trust.

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