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It’s never pretty.

The Orange County Health Care Agency constantly investigates the source of food-borne illnesses. They receive hundreds of reports every year of suspicious foods sold and served in Orange County.

This is how agency officials work. First, they identify the foods responsible for the reported illness. Then, they collect accurate and complete information from the victims. They also try to collect samples of the food and identify possible contributing factors. The ultimate goal, of course, is to correct the improper food-handling practices that may have contributed to the illness.

Health Care Agency officials say they have observed that most food-borne illnesses last between 24 and 48 hours. These symptoms typically become noticeable anywhere between two to 36 hours after eating the food in question. This means the suspect food, often, is not the last thing you ate. Typically, most cases of food-borne illnesses are single cases and not associated with large outbreaks.

The Center for Disease Control provides several useful tips for consumers to protect themselves from food-borne illnesses. The first step, officials say, is to choose a restaurant that is clean and has adequate kitchen facilities. It may be wise to find out how restaurants did on their most recent inspections and use that score to help guide your choice. In Orange County, for example, the Health Care Agency’s Web site ( provides a complete list of restaurants that were cited or closed for unsanitary conditions or health violations over the last 60 days.

Consumers can also ask for their food to be cooked in a specific way. For example, when ordering a hamburger, it might be a good idea to ask for it to be cooked to a temperature of 160 degrees Fahrenheit or send it back if it is still pink in the middle. Also while ordering egg dishes, it is always wise to ask if it was made with a pasteurized. If not, choose something else.

But that might often be hard to do when you are driving through a fast food restaurant, picking up your order from a window. So what do you when you are stricken by a food-borne illness?

It’s best to report it so that officials can conduct a prompt and thorough investigation. Also, victims must see a doctor right away before the symptoms disappear so that the bacteria or virus causing the illness can be singled out. Orange County residents should call the Environmental Health Division to report a possible food-borne illness and have the following information ready:
Your name, address and telephone number and the names and telephone numbers of other people if others also became ill. This information is kept confidential.
The food facility’s name, address and telephone number.
Describe all of the foods eaten during the meal suspected of causing the illness. Additionally, it is important to note the date and time the food was eaten as well as the date and time of the first symptoms.
List all symptoms experienced during the illness. This information will help the specialist in investigating the food facility.
Be prepared to answer questions regarding all of the foods eaten and beverages consumed in the three days prior to the first sign of illness. Many food-borne illness organisms can have incubation periods of three days or longer. The food history is necessary to help the Specialist identify the most likely suspected food item.

Sushi anyone?

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