Food Safety

Contaminated food can lead to serious illness. During the 1930s, 150 people died from eating contaminated oysters. Today’s food supply is much safer. At home, you can minimize the risk of food poisoning by washing your hands before eating, washing fruits and vegetables, keeping cold foods cold and hot foods hot, and throwing out refrigerated food that’s more than a few days old.


Fun Facts

  • Problems with contaminated foods have been around for thousands of years. Some researchers believe that Alexander the Great might have died from typhoid fever, a disease caused by bacteria found in contaminated food and water.
  • Other well-known people who may have died from food poisoning include King Henry I, Rudyard Kipling, Prince Albert, and President Zachary Taylor.
  • The colonial settlement in Jamestown, VA struggled with typhoid many times before the entire colony was wiped out—possibly from the disease. And historians now believe that a dangerous fungus on rye flour may have caused the erratic behavior that led to the Salem witch trials.
  • 20,000 American soldiers became ill with typhoid fever during the Spanish American War.
  • In the early 20th century, canned olives, raw milk, and oysters caused illness resulting in hundreds of deaths.
  • More recently, people have died from eating contaminated spinach, cantaloupe, and fast food hamburgers.
  • Additionally, thousands of people are sickened every year but eventually recover. Common symptoms of food poisoning include diarrhea, stomach cramps, and vomiting.
  • In 1906, Upton Sinclair wrote a book, The Jungle, about immigrants living in crowded city conditions. He wrote specifically about the problems of contaminated food and in particular, about the meatpacking industry. He had worked as a meatpacker in Chicago for nine months before he wrote the book. When President Theodore Roosevelt read the book, he organized the first laws for food safety and inspection.
  • Over the next 100 years, the government would implement other food safety laws and programs through the U.S. food and Drug Administration. The laws were designed to protect consumers not just from unsanitary food, but harmful additives, chemicals, and dyes.
  • In 2011, more stringent laws were passed. Today, the USDA focuses on preventing foodborne illnesses.

Questions and Answers

Question: Have individuals made contributions to solving the problem of contaminated food?

Answer: Yes, Jane Addams is one example. In the late 1800s, she opened a home for the poor in Chicago. The home was later expanded to include a library, a school, a swimming pool, and recreation opportunities. Jane didn’t stop there though. She worked hard to clean up Chicago. She tackled the problem of open sewage in the streets and unclean milk, which often carried tuberculosis, a serious and often deadly, disease.


Learn More

Learn more about preventing food poisoning.