In addition to cardiovascular disease and kidney problems, diabetes also affects the immune system. These affects leave diabetes patients more prone to infectious disease, such as foodborne illness.
A diabetic patient’s immune system may not immediately recognize harmful foodborne pathogens increasing a person’s risk for infection.
When certain disease-causing bacteria, viruses or parasites contaminate food, they can cause foodborne illness. Another word for such a bacteria, virus, or parasite is “pathogen.” Foodborne illness, often called food poisoning, is an illness that comes from a food you eat.
- The food supply in the United States is among the safest in the world – but it can still be a source of infection for all persons.
- According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 48 million persons get sick, 128,000 are hospitalized, and 3,000 die from foodborne infection and illness in the United States each year. Many of these people are children, older adults, or have weakened immune systems and may not be able to fight infection normally.
Since foodborne illness can be serious – or even fatal – it is important for you to know and practice safe food-handling behaviors to help reduce your risk of getting sick from contaminated food.
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Food Safety for People with Diabetes
As a person with diabetes, you are not alone — there are many people in the United States with this chronic disease. Diabetes can affect various organs and systems of your body, causing them not to function properly, and making you more susceptible to infection. For example:
- Your immune system, when functioning properly, readily fights off harmful bacteria and other pathogens that cause infection. With diabetes, your immune system may not readily recognize harmful bacteria or other pathogens. This delay in the body’s natural response to foreign invasion places a person with diabetes at increased risk for infection.
- Your gastrointestinal tract, when functioning properly, allows the foods and beverages you consume to be digested normally. Diabetes may damage the cells that create stomach acid and the nerves that help your stomach and intestinal tract move the food throughout the intestinal tract. Because of this damage, your stomach may hold on to the food and beverages you consume for a longer period of time, allowing harmful bacteria and other pathogens to grow.
- Additionally, your kidneys, which work to cleanse the body, may not be functioning properly and may hold on to harmful bacteria, toxins, and other pathogens.
- A consequence of having diabetes is that it may leave you more susceptible to developing infections — like those that can be brought on by disease-causing bacteria and other pathogens that cause foodborne illness. Should you contract a foodborne illness, you are more likely to have a lengthier illness, undergo hospitalization, or even die.
- To avoid contracting a foodborne illness, you must be vigilant when handling, preparing, and consuming foods.
Make safe handling a lifelong commitment to minimize your risk of foodborne illness. Be aware that as you age, your immunity to infection naturally is weakened
High glucose levels suppress the function of white blood cells that fight off infection, increasing one’s risk of contracting a foodborne illness. If someone with diabetes contracts a foodborne illness, their blood glucose levels may be affected because the illness impacts what and how much the person can eat.
Gastrointestinal Tract (GI)
Diabetes may cause the stomach to produce low amounts of digestive acid. In addition, nerves may not move food through the GI tract as quickly as in non-diabetic persons. When the stomach holds on to food longer than necessary, bacteria start to multiply. If the amount of unhealthy bacteria in the stomach gets too high, it can lead to foodborne illness.
Kidneys usually work to cleanse the body. For many diabetes patients, their kidneys may not function properly, giving unhealthy bacteria the opportunity to grow out of control.
What You Can Do
Learn about safety tips for those at increased risk of foodborne illness. Those living with diabetes should always follow the four steps:
Four Basic Steps to Food Safety
1. Clean: Wash hands and surfaces often
Bacteria can spread throughout the kitchen and get onto cutting boards, utensils, counter tops, and food.
To ensure that your hands and surfaces are clean, be sure to:
Wash hands in warm soapy water for at least 20 seconds before and after handling food and using the bathroom, changing diapers, or handling pets.
- Wash cutting boards, dishes, utensils, and counter tops with hot soapy water between the preparation of raw meat, poultry, and seafood products and preparation of any other food that will not be cooked. As an added precaution, sanitize cutting boards and counter tops by rinsing them in a solution made of one tablespoon of unscented liquid chlorine bleach per gallon of water, or, as an alternative, you may run the plastic board through the wash cycle in your automatic dishwasher.
- Use paper towels to clean up kitchen surfaces. If using cloth towels, you should wash them often in the hot cycle of the washing machine.
- Wash produce. Rinse fruits and vegetables, and rub firm-skin fruits and vegetables under running tap water, including those with skins and rinds that are not eaten.
- With canned goods: remember to clean lids before opening.
2. Separate: Don’t cross-contaminate
Cross-contamination occurs when bacteria are spread from one food product to another. This is especially common when handling raw meat, poultry, seafood, and eggs. The key is to keep these foods – and their juices – away from ready-to-eat foods.
To prevent cross-contamination, remember to:
- Separate raw meat, poultry, seafood, and eggs from other foods in your grocery shopping cart, grocery bags, and in your refrigerator.
- Never place cooked food on a plate that previously held raw meat, poultry, seafood, or eggs without first washing the plate with hot soapy water.
- Don’t reuse marinades used on raw foods unless you bring them to a boil first.
- Consider using one cutting board only for raw foods and another only for ready-to-eat foods, such as bread, fresh fruits and vegetables, and cooked meat.
3. Cook: Cook to safe temperatures
Foods are safely cooked when they are heated to the USDA-FDA recommended safe minimum internal temperatures:
To ensure that your foods are cooked safely, always:
- Use a food thermometer to measure the internal temperature of cooked foods. Check the internal temperature in several places to make sure that the meat, poultry, seafood, or egg product is cooked to safe minimum internal temperatures.
- Cook ground beef to at least 160 ºF and ground poultry to a safe minimum internal temperature of 165 ºF. Color of food is not a reliable indicator of safety or doneness.
- Reheat fully cooked hams packaged at a USDA-inspected plant to 140 ºF. For fully cooked ham that has been repackaged in any other location or for leftover fully cooked ham, heat to 165 ºF.
- Cook seafood to 145 F. Cook shrimp, lobster, and crab until they turn red and the flesh is pearly opaque. Cook clams, mussels, and oysters until the shells open. If the shells do not open, do not eat the seafood inside.
- Cook eggs until the yolks and whites are firm. Use only recipes in which the eggs are cooked or heated to 160 ºF.
- Cook all raw beef, lamb, pork, and veal steaks, roasts, and chops to 145 ºF with a 3-minute rest time after removal from the heat source.
- Bring sauces, soups, and gravy to a boil when reheating. Heat other leftovers to 165 ºF.
- Reheat hot dogs, luncheon meats, bologna, and other deli meats until steaming hot or 165 ºF.
- When cooking in a microwave oven, cover food, stir, and rotate for even cooking. If there is no turntable, rotate the dish by hand once or twice during cooking. Always allow standing time, which completes the cooking, before checking the internal temperature with a food thermometer. Food is done when it reaches the USDA- FDA recommended safe minimum internal temperature.
Is It Done Yet?
Use a food thermometer to be most accurate. You can’t always tell by looking.
- Beef, Pork, Veal, Lamb, Steaks, Roasts & Chops: 145 ºF with 3-minute rest time
- Fish: 145 ºF
- Beef, Pork, Veal, Lamb Ground: 160 ºF
- Egg Dishes: 160 ºF
- Turkey, Chicken & Duck Whole, Pieces & Ground: 165 ºF
4. Chill: Refrigerate promptly
Cold temperatures slow the growth of harmful bacteria. Keeping a constant refrigerator temperature of 40 °F or below is one of the most effective ways to reduce risk of foodborne illness. Use an appliance thermometer to be sure the refrigerator temperature is consistently 40 °F or below and the freezer temperature is 0 °F or below.
To chill foods properly:
- Refrigerate or freeze meat, poultry, eggs, seafood, and other perishables within 2 hours of cooking or purchasing. Refrigerate within 1 hour if the temperature outside is above 90 °F.
- Never thaw food at room temperature, such as on the counter top. It is safe to thaw food in the refrigerator, in cold water, or in the microwave. If you thaw food in cold water or in the microwave, you should cook it immediately. Divide large amounts of food into shallow containers for quicker cooling in the refrigerator.
Food Keeper Application
Download the FoodSafety.gov FoodKeeper application to make sure you are storing food and beverages properly, and using them within recommended storage guidelines.