Low income families are at a higher risk of chronic illnesses, alcohol and drug abuse, diseases, and food illness. The main reasons why low income persons face a higher risk of food illness are poor nutrition and food insecurity. The latter are also associated with adverse health outcomes among adults and children and a higher risk for diseases such as diabetes, hyperlipidemia, high blood pressure, and others.
Causes of Food Illness
Persons in low income households often cut portion size and even skip meals because of food insecurity. Inadequate nutrition often leads to mineral and vitamin deficiency and food-related illnesses because many low income individuals are unable to afford fresh, seasonal produce and balanced meals.
Foodborne Illnesses, Risks, and Symptoms
Food-insecure families face a higher risk of infections with bacteria such as E. Coli, Shigella, Salmonella, Campylobacter, and others. The elderly, children, and persons with compromised immune systems are more vulnerable and at a higher risk of viral, parasitic, and bacterial infections. This can be explained with inadequate access to health services, higher food safety risks, improper storage, and other factors. Symptoms of foodborne disease to watch for include dizziness, headache, nausea, and fever. Other symptoms are vomiting, stomach cramps, and diarrhea.
Persons living in poverty-stricken communities are at a higher risk for different foodborne illnesses, including viral hepatitis, intestinal roundworm infections, typhoid fever, salmonella infections, and others. The list of foodborne illnesses also includes Brainerd diarrhea, viral gastroenteritis, and various parasitic and fungal infections.
The Spiral of Debt and Food Illness
Low income families face food insecurity because of restricted access to markets, instability and scarcity, increasing food prices, low wages, and piling debt. Excessive debt is one of the main reasons for poor standard of living and inadequate nutrition. Many people resort to subprime loans with excessive interest rates, including bad credit loans and cash advances. And many fall into a spiral of debt and damaged credit rating and are forced to take on more debt to pay for basic necessities and emergencies.
High interest loans and credit card debt add up, and many low income families are unable to afford basic commodities, appliances, and even shelter. Households that lack appliances and necessities such as ovens, fridges, running water, and electricity are at a higher risk for various infections and even chronic diseases.
How to Prevent Foodborne Illnesses
Hygiene and proper food storage are very important and reduce the risk for serious illnesses. Always check for product cleanliness and keep products separated. Bacteria easily spread on food, countertops, utensils, cutting boards, and appliances. This means that there is a risk of cross contamination and associated infections. Products such as seafood, poultry, raw meat, and other types of food must be kept separate to prevent contamination. Cross contamination is responsible for various foodborne diseases and can occur in the kitchen, during defrosting, in the fridge, and when shopping. There are good food preservation practices, including shelf storage, cold storage, home canning, and others.
Unsafe sanitary conditions also contribute to the higher risk of foodborne diseases. It is important to use hot water and soap after handling pets, changing diapers, using the bathroom, and handling food. Use clean cloths, paper towels, soapy water, and cleaning solutions to disinfect all surfaces, including kitchen appliances, tiles, and other surfaces.
Finally, proper hygiene at stores in low income communities is also important, including better monitoring and enhanced food safety inspection practices.
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