5 Frightening Food-Safety Facts

People aren't the only ones who love cookouts. Because of their unfettered access to outdoor feasts, insects and microbes of all varieties often enjoy them, too. And while you may see no harm in sharing a bit of your bounty with the earth's smallest creatures, you should know that their participation can come at a price-sometimes a rather high one-to your health.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), there are some 250 foodborne diseases, caused by a myriad of bacteria, viruses, and parasites. Each year, these diseases are responsible for making about 76 million people sick in the United States. Of these 76 million, 325,000 are hospitalized and 5,000 die. Do you know the facts on foodborne illness? Read on to find out.

1. Bacteria Are Food-Lovers. Food provides bacteria with all the nutrients they need to flourish, but they also require a certain range in temperature, pH level, and water activity. E. coli bacteria can grow in temperatures as cold as 45° F and as warm as 122° F; they can survive in a pH level as acidic as 4.4 and need a minimum water activity of 0.95. The ranges for other bacteria vary, though often not widely, which means you should take the proper precautions with raw foods and cook meats to the USDA-recommended temperatures of 145° F for steaks and fish, 160° F for pork and ground beef, and 165° F for chicken.

2. They Can Multiply—Fast. Let's say there's a Salmonella bacterium in your potato salad. Under optimum conditions, it can replicate himself once every 20 minutes. After four hours, there will be 4,096 of its kind navigating through the mayo. And it's likely that it wasn't alone when it reached your salad. So if it showed up with a few hundred of its kind, you'll be left with about 1.23 million unwelcome Salmonella bacteria in four hour's time, which is enough to make you ill.

3. The Consequences Are Real. Campylobacter infections, which result from eating undercooked chicken or food that has been contaminated by the juices of raw chicken, have been linked to Guillain-Barre syndrome, a disorder in which the body's immune system assaults the peripheral nervous system. Numbness and tingling ensue and can intensify to the point where the patient is almost completely paralyzed. Most people recover from the syndrome, but symptoms can last up to three years. And according to the CDC, the most common cause of acute kidney failure in children, hemolytic uremic syndrome, is due to E. coli infections.

4.Insects May Come Bearing Gifts. Microbes often hitch a ride on insects, so as they crawl on your food, they can add a dash of bacteria to your spread. Perhaps one of the worst offenders is the fly. Since flies can't digest solid food, they throw up on it to soften it into a liquid. During this process, they can infect food with bacteria that they most likely acquired from fecal matter, which they breed in and eat.

5. Mushrooms Can Mean Malady. Bacteria, viruses, and parasites aren't the only foodborne factors that can make you ill. Certain wild mushrooms, such as the infamous death cap mushroom, which bears a resemblance to the harmless chanterelle, contain toxins that can cause vomiting, headaches, severe diarrhea, even death. Unless you're a fungi expert, you should definitely think twice before going on a mushroom hunt and using that yield to garnish a steak or enhance a salad.