Food

Is Climate Change Making Your Food Less Safe To Eat?

The role of climate change in foodborne illnesses

Do you have big cooking plans this Thanksgiving? Us too! We love cooking when the holiday season rolls around, but did you ever think that climate change is something you would think while prepping your food? Well, the raw ingredients in your kitchen contain harmful microbes that can cause foodborne illnesses, and climate change has been linked to an increase in these diseases.

As the global temperature rises and rainfall patterns change, bacteria, viruses, parasites, and other harmful vectors flourish. These changes in climatic factors increase disease transmission efficacy and improve survival rates of these vectors (1). In other words, climate change has allowed these harmful microbes to evolve and be better equipped to cause diseases. On top of that, they are more resilient and harder to kill.

So what should you be on the lookout for? Good question. Below are just a few examples of agents that may be altered by climate variability in the United States (1, 2). All of them can potentially be found on the foods that we consume.

  • E. coli O157: this specific strain of E. coli is particularly prone to climate change. We ingest this microbe through contaminated foods such as raw or undercooked ground meat products and raw milk (3).
  • Salmonella: Salmonella is caused by a bacteria that lives in the intestinal tract of animals. Just like E. coli O157, Salmonella can cause foodborne illnesses through consumption of contaminated ingredients.
  • Campylobacter: almost all raw poultry you see in the grocery store contains this microbe. This bacteria causes foodborne illnesses by cross-contaminating other foods and by surviving in undercooked meat. This makes Campylobacter one of the most common causes of diarrhea in the United States.

Overall, changes in climatic factors will be the largest culprit of food-related illnesses and mortality (4). This accounts for under-nutrition, communicable and non-communicable diseases, as well as vector-borne diseases.

The good news is that these foodborne illnesses are highly preventable!

While climate change may improve the environment in which these microbes thrive, we can take steps to prevent foodborne illnesses from happening in our own kitchens. The USDA recommends the Be Food Safe prevention steps (5):

  • Clean: Wash your hands and cooking surfaces frequently.
  • Separate: Don't cross-contaminate your foods. Keep your meats and veggies separate.
  • Cook: Cook ingredients to their proper temperatures.
  • Chill: Refrigerate foods promptly.

By following these guidelines, the vast majority of these harmful microbes can be removed or killed. Keep yourself and your family free from foodborne illnesses!


References

  1. https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S0963996910002231
  2. https://www.health.state.mn.us/diseases/foodborne/basics.html
  3. https://www.who.int/news-room/fact-sheets/detail/e-coli##targetText=Sources%20and%20transmission&targetText=E.%20coli%20O157%3AH7%20is%20transmitted%20to%20humans%20primarily%20through,meat%20products%20and%20raw%20milk.
  4. https://www.who.int/foodsafety/_Climate_Change.pdf
  5. https://www.fsis.usda.gov/wps/portal/fsis/topics/food-safety-education/get-answers/food-safety-fact-sheets/safe-food-handling/cleanliness-helps-prevent-foodborne-illness/ct_index

We know climate change poses a real and serious threat; scientists have observed Earth's temperature steadily rise by one degree Fahrenheit over the last 100 years (1). But when we think of climate change, an image of a polar bear on a dwindling iceberg usually comes to everyone's mind. There's so much emphasis on the environmental impacts of climate change, we often forget that climate change is also negatively impacting our health. How? Read on…

Air pollution

Even though you can't see it unless it's a super smoggy day, air pollution is a huge threat to our health. Burning coal, oil, and gas are big contributors to climate change, and they also release harmful air pollutants like particulate matter, nitrogen dioxide, ozone, and sulphur dioxide into the atmosphere. These pollutants have been linked to serious diseases, and can cause severe symptoms in people with heart and lung conditions. When you breathe in, these pollutants get trapped in your nose, travel to your airway, and even enter into your bloodstream. Exposure to these pollutants have been linked to death in people with heart or lung disease, heart attacks, irregular heartbeats, aggravated asthma, decreased lung function, and increased respiratory symptoms (2). It is estimated that 4.2 million people a year die from air pollution (3).

Extreme Weather Events

Nowadays, it's hard to not hear about extreme weather on the television or radio no matter what time of year it is. Extreme weather events like heat waves, drought, floods, and hurricanes are increasing both in intensity and frequency due to climate change. The Center for Climate and Energy Solutions created an interactive map that highlights just how many extreme weather events occurred in the past decade. The Guardian also has published a visual guide of the human toll from 2018 climate disasters. In 2018 alone, Europe faced both heatwaves and freezing weather, Argentina suffered through droughts that decimated croplands, India experienced record high flooding, and the United States endured hurricanes and fires. That same year, 10,373 people lost their lives due to disasters, and 61.7 million people were affected by natural hazards (5). As climate change continues, these numbers will only get worse.

Increased Vector-Borne Disease

Very few things can ruin a beautiful summer day, but a swarm of mosquitoes is definitely one of them. Just the thought of their buzzing has us lathering on bug spray and lighting citronella candles! Unfortunately, with worsening climate change, we are in for a lot more buzzing.

Changes in temperature, rainfall, and humidity brought on by climate change have allowed vectors like mosquitoes, ticks, and rodents that carry infectious agents to migrate to new areas (6). With the expansion of their habitats and breeding grounds, these vectors are coming into contact with more people, and more interactions with people means more chance of infection. We've seen higher incidences of diseases like malaria, Lyme disease, and West Nile virus in recent years. To make things worse, a warming climate also allow vectors and the microbes inside of them to grow and reproduce at a faster rate (7).

What You Can Do

While the statistics on climate change are sobering, there's a lot you can do to protect your health! Being prepared and taking small precautions can keep you safe no matter what a changing climate throws at you.

  • If you are travelling to a heavily polluted area, you can limit exposure to harmful pollutants by wearing an air mask. Look for masks called a "particulate respirator" with the word "NIOSH" and either "N95" or "P100" on the package information. Make sure to replace your mask with a new one every few days (if the mask if reusable to begin with).
  • If you live in a buggy area, apply bug sprays before going out to ward off disease-carrying insects and reapply when necessary. Check out our insect repellent guide to find out which repellent is right for you!
  • And if you live in an area that is prone to natural disasters, purchase or assemble an emergency kit to store in your home. There are kits that are specific for flooding, hurricanes, heat waves, and other natural disasters. Make sure to have these kits readily available know how to use them.


References

  1. https://www.epa.gov/pm-pollution/health-and-environmental-effects-particulate-matter-pm
  2. https://www.nasa.gov/audience/forstudents/k-4/stories/nasa-knows/what-is-climate-change-k4.html
  3. https://www.who.int/airpollution/en/
  4. https://nca2014.globalchange.gov/highlights/report-findings/extreme-weather
  5. https://reliefweb.int/report/world/2018extreme-weather-events-affected-60m-people
  6. https://www.iamat.org/blog/5-must-read-articles-on-climate-change-and-infectious-diseases/
  7. https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/mosquito-borne-diseases-on-the-uptick-thanks-to-global-warming/
  8. https://www.webmd.com/a-to-z-guides/features/safer-bug-spray-natural-bug-repellents#1
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Easy Ways to Lower Your Carbon Footprint at Home

Help fight back against climate change without leaving your house!

There's no denying it, the planet is warming. Countries around the world saw record-breaking temperatures the past two months. July 2019 was the was the hottest month in recorded history and June 2019 following closely behind in second place. On top of the extreme heat, sea ice has fallen to unprecedented lows, nearly 20% below the average (1). We're already seeing the negative impacts of a changing climate, which is why we need to take urgent action in our day-to-day lives and take steps towards a more sustainable lifestyle.

The following tips and strategies will not only allow you to do your part in the fight against climate change, but also have the additional benefit of saving you money!

How Electricity Use Contributes to Climate Change

Climate change is caused by the emission of greenhouse gasses namely from combustion of fossil fuels for energy. In order to use energy for transportation, heating, and electricity, fossil fuels are burned and the process releases unnatural amounts of gasses like carbon dioxide and methane. The chemical composition and structure of these gasses make it difficult for the sun's energy to pass through them, and the result is that they trap the sun's heat in the atmosphere, warming the planet (2). The greenhouse effect is a natural process necessary to sustain life on Earth, but human activity has caused concentrations of these greenhouse gasses that are beyond the capacity of normal climate fluctuations.

What You Can Do To Save Energy at Home

Electricity production is the second largest source of fossil fuel emissions, second only to transportation. Use the following tips to change your consumption patterns and live a more sustainable life!

  1. Turn off the lights and unplug appliances that aren't being used - it might seem like this individual action would only save minuscule amounts of energy, but it really adds up! The World Health Organization calculated that switching off five unused lights in your home when they are unused can avoid about 400 kg of CO2 emissions per year (3).
  2. Purchase energy efficient light bulbs! Although these are more expensive in the short term, they last way longer and help you save on energy costs, saving you money in the long run. Switching one light bulb to an energy efficient bulb in your home could avoid another 400kg of CO2 emissions in one ear (3)
  3. Limit water usage by taking shorter showers and turning water off when brushing teeth. The average shower uses about 5 gallons of water per minute. If you shorten your shower by 3 minutes, you can cut your water use by 15 gallons! (4)
  4. Use air conditioning efficiently! AC accounts for nearly 6% of household energy usage in the United States. Your AC consumption (and electricity bill) can be significantly lowered through the use of high efficiency air conditioning units. If you're not in the market for a new AC unit, regular cleaning and filter replacements for your current AC can do wonders for efficiency (5).
  5. While we're on the subject of AC… use air conditioning less. You can save money and keep your home cool in ways that avoid AC use altogether! Seal and insulate air ducts, walls, cracks, openings, and doorways to prevent heat from sneaking in. Make use of ceiling fans and natural ventilation, and refrain from cooking inside on hot days (5).
  6. Install energy efficient solar curtains… and keep them closed! Energy efficient curtains help prevent heat from getting in during the hot months and prevent it from escaping during the colder months, allowing you to save on both heating and cooling energy and costs. Keeping curtains closed when possible enhances their effect (5).
  7. Power down computers and activate sleep and hibernation settings. Putting your computer on sleep mode can reduce its energy consumption by about 87%. When you go to sleep, your computer should too (4)!
  8. Wash your clothes in cold water. The majority of energy spent washing laundry is through the heating process and can be conserved simply by using colder wash cycles. Your clothes will still get clean in cold water!
  9. Talk to your energy provider. You may be able to look at a breakdown of your energy consumption and see where you could cut corners. Many energy providers now also have the option to source your energy from wind or other clean sources. There are a lot of great options out there!

The list above outlines so many different ways you can adjust your habits to live a more sustainable life, but remember Rome was not built in a day! Make changes that are manageable for you and try to stick with them. Small changes can have a big impact over time. And remember, anything that saves you energy, is also saving you money! Try out a few tips this week!


References

  1. https://www.noaa.gov/news/july-2019-was-hottest-month-on-record-for-planet
  2. http://www.environment.gov.au/climate-change/climate-science-data/climate-science/greenhouse-effect
  3. https://www.who.int/globalchange/publications/fact...
  4. https://www.bu.edu/sustainability/what-you-can-do/ten-sustainable-actions/turn-off-the-lights/
  5. https://www.energy.gov/articles/energy-saver-101-i...
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