Learn From Moms Who’ve Been There: “How I Make Food Safer for My Family”
And experiencing a scary foodborne illness yourself? It can leave people in a constant state of fear around the safety of the food they eat. From the pain and agony, though, we oftentimes see moms making it their sacred mission to do everything they can to prevent contaminated food from affecting their families again.
So, we reached out to some special moms in the STOP Foodborne Illness community to get their advice. Now we’re passing on their nuggets of wisdom and food safety tips to help keep you and your family free from foodborne illness.
From Laura: Survivor
I was 18 when I got sick, but didn’t have my daughter, Vivi, until I was 36. That was plenty of time for me to worry over myself and think about food safety as it affected me. Having a child, it’s a whole different ballgame! I aim to be cautious but not obsessive about food safety.
At 3, Vivi knows that mommy always puts the chicken and pork we buy at the grocery store in a plastic bag before putting it in the cart. She knows we’re not supposed to eat raw meat or eggs and that we wash our fruits and vegetables before we eat them. I let her help me cook so she can learn the proper, safe way to do things.
We always wash our hands after touching any ingredients.
Our family has absolutely made some changes when it comes to food safety. We believe Serena’s E. coli poisoning came from a watermelon that wasn’t washed. So, we’re all cautious about washing produce thoroughly before we eat it. This step is so important – please take time for it. We also keep the kitchen counters very clean to avoid cross-contamination.
One more thing I want to share: Nobody knows a child like their own mom. If you or anyone in your family is suffering with severe diarrhea that’s gone on for days, insist and make sure you receive E. coli testing. Serena had diarrhea for four days and should have been tested earlier on. In our home state of Oregon, with proposed new legislation (HB3540) dubbed the Serena Profitt Bill, I’m advocating for mandatory E. coli testing when four days of specific symptoms are reported for the very young, elderly, and immunocompromised.
Please join with me. Learn more and take action here.
Sixteen years ago, Listeria almost killed me and my twins. For 41 days, Listeria lived inside my body before I went into early labor. And somehow, by the grace of God, and good nurses, all three of us survived. But barely. We are so, so lucky. The source was gourmet meat spread. Now, I’m scared every time I eat, especially when it comes to meat. Vegetables, too. All food, really.
My mantra? Just cook it.
When I cook meat, I’m very careful about cooking it thoroughly using a thermometer. I sometimes cook it dry. It’s not very tasty. But it won’t kill us. And I’ve learned some techniques through the years. Add a little chicken broth to chicken to help keep it moist. Eat fewer burgers with ground beef or turkey. Instead, make more chili, tacos, anything that allows me to see there’s no more pink left.
Well-done in restaurants. That’s how we order. Waiters still frown. They still think we don’t know how to order our burgers and steaks. OK, they say, wearily. Thanks, I say, I don’t want to die this time, since the mortality rate is 30% for the particular strain of bacteria that dwelled and festered and multiplied in my body and my uterus, where my twins resided at the time.
E. coli. Listeria. Salmonella. These bugs like the cold. They love warmth. They thrive and multiply, even when properly refrigerated. I’m sure you heard about the Listeria ice cream recall, right? Please tell me you did. Just cook it. Ok, not the ice cream. For dealing with that, click here to sign up for STOP Foodborne Illness e-Alerts. And read them. You’ll be shocked.
But for meat and produce, you should just cook it to a safe temperature. Heat kills Listeria. Nothing else works. Even though you’d rather have a cold turkey and cheese sandwich with mayo than a grilled turkey and cheese with butter, just get out the pan. Just cook it.”
I wash all fruits and veggies very thoroughly using a veggie rinse and scrub brush before slicing into them or further preparing them. My children are trained to wash their hands well whenever they walk in the door –especially when coming home from a day at school—, after using the bathroom, and before eating. We read labels together looking for chemicals, additives, artificial sugars or colors, or other suspicious ingredients. My children are more aware about what’s in their foods than most of their peers.
The effects of having a foodborne illness can linger on long after the acute phase has passed. It’s important to help the body recover with probiotics, digestive enzymes, and an anti-inflammatory diet in order to facilitate complete healing and recovery.
From Debbie: Mom to Survivors Mark and Linda, Wife to Survivor Kent
Our family has been struck by severe food poisoning twice. First, my son and daughter were sickened with E. coli in 1990. (Although we have our suspicions, the source was not identified.) Then, in 2014, my husband became seriously ill, and we were determined to find the source. We discovered it was E. coli in contaminated sprouts, which was linked to a regional outbreak.
Now, given our family’s experience, we don’t eat sprouts or ground beef. We’re very careful about knowing the source of our food. When you know the source, you can research and understand exactly how your food was produced and decide if you feel it’s safe or not to put into your body. We opt for whole foods rather than packaged foods, and we wash everything carefully. It’s safer and it tastes better, too!
My horrific food poisoning ordeal has really changed me. It’s been tremendously painful in countless ways. I see food differently now and have made many adjustments to how I prepare and eat food. I’m super careful about cross-contamination, and I make sure everything I eat is cooked to a safe temperature. I pay close attention to where food comes from and how it was raised or grown. I want to know how it was handled before it got to me and what’s been put into it (intentionally or not).
For a long time, during and after eating, the slightest change in the feel of my body made me freak out a bit. It annoys me that I sometimes get so nervous about food. In addition to the obvious concern of dealing with being sick from a foodborne illness, the burdens and problems are far-reaching. For me, it was weeks of missed work, financial trouble, neglecting people who counted on me, and responsibilities I had to abandon. And then there’s the haunting thought that it may happen again. I had palpable anxiety, especially because at the time I was the legal guardian for my grandfather, Herman. I cooked for him, and hated to think about him getting sick.
Contaminated food and the horrible consequences of it doesn’t just hurt the person who gets sick. It affects that person’s family, friends, and the greater community. In my mind, caring about food safety is caring about neighbors, friends, and my family. Especially now that I’m a new mother. I am nursing Tucker so he will get the best nutrition possible. And when we get there, I’ll be making as much of his baby food as I can with fresh food, vegetables, and fruits.
“As a result of Rusty’s E. coli food poisoning experience, our family has made many changes in our day-to-day life. Bagged lettuce was the culprit, which has Rusty completely afraid of eating salad now. He hasn’t touched it in 12 years. I’m gun shy on bagged lettuce, too. I rarely purchase it and, if so, it’s just for me.
Generally speaking, I feel we’re very vulnerable to foodborne illness, so one thing we’ve done to minimize risk is growing some of our own vegetables. When it comes to expiration dates on food, Rusty is religious about checking them. He’s our official “when in doubt, throw it out” advocate in the family.
For any restaurants or vendors that have had confirmed foodborne illness outbreaks, we have a zero tolerance policy. We’re a very busy family, so we do tend to eat out often. But we make a solid attempt to research each food establishment we frequent.
And, of course, we stay updated on food recalls so we can get rid of any food we may have in our fridge or pantry that’s potentially contaminated.”
Do You Have Some Motherly Wisdom to Share?
So, you’ve heard from some of our favorite food safety warrior moms. How about you?
Are you a mom (or dad) whose life has been forever changed because of a foodborne illness? Want to share something you’re doing now to keep food safe for you and your family?
We’d love to hear from you!
Please get in touch with Stanley Rutledge, Community Coordinator, at email@example.com. Your tip or nugget of wisdom is important to us because it may be just the thing we can share to help other moms and their families.