November is National Diabetes Month, and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is taking the opportunity to remind people with diabetes about the importance of safe food handling. Because diabetes can affect various organs and systems of the body, those living with this disease are more susceptible to foodborne illness and more likely to have a lengthier illness, undergo hospitalization, or even die. diabetes-foodborne-illness-406The immune system of someone with diabetes 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. Diabetes may also damage the cells that create stomach acid and the nerves that help the stomach and intestinal tract move food through. Because of this damage, the stomach may hold food and beverages for a longer period of time, allowing harmful bacteria and other pathogens to grow. And kidneys that aren’t functioning properly may hold onto harmful bacteria, toxins, and other pathogens. Some foods that are riskier for people with diabetes because they are more likely to contain harmful bacteria or viruses are uncooked fruits and vegetables and certain animal products, such as unpasteurized milk, raw meat or luncheon meats. Anyone who is diabetic or who prepares food for people with diabetes should also carefully follow these steps:

  1. CLEAN: Wash hands and surfaces often. Bacteria can be spread throughout the kitchen and get onto hands, cutting boards, utensils, countertops, and food.
  2. SEPARATE: Keep raw meat, poultry, eggs, and seafood and their juices away from ready-to-eat foods.
  3. COOK to the right temperatures. Use a food thermometer to make sure that meat, poultry, seafood, and egg products are cooked to a safe minimum internal temperature to destroy any harmful bacteria. (Refer to this temperature chart.)
  4. CHILL foods promptly. Cold temperatures slow the growth of harmful bacteria. Use an appliance thermometer to be sure the refrigerator temperature is 40 degrees F or below and the freezer temperature is 0 degrees F or below.

Consuming dangerous foodborne bacteria will usually cause illness within one to three days of eating the contaminated food. However, sickness can also occur within 20 minutes or up to six weeks later. Symptoms of foodborne illness include vomiting, diarrhea, abdominal pain, and flu-like symptoms (such as fever, headache, and body aches). If you think that you or a family member has a foodborne illness, contact your healthcare provider immediately. Also, report the suspected foodborne illness to FDA in either of these ways by contacting a Consumer Complaint Coordinator in your area or MedWatch, FDA’s Safety Information and Adverse Event Reporting Program. (To sign up for a free subscription to Food Safety News, click here.)