By Chris Adams

Every year, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that 1 in 6 Americans gets sick from foodborne illnesses. That’s 48 million people – 128,000 of whom are hospitalized, 3,000 of whom die.

And those are just the official numbers. The reality, according to an expert on food safety, is that such illnesses are highly under-reported.

In a National Press Foundation session, Londa Nwadike detailed the future of food safety – and whether those shocking numbers can start trending down.

Nwadike holds a position with both the University of Missouri and Kansas State University, serving as a food safety specialist for both states. Her role is to help educate producers and consumers in both of her states, and she detailed the other key government players in the food-safety realm: the CDC, the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the Food and Drug Administration and state departments of health and agriculture.

And while those regulators have a say in how to monitor and mitigate foodborne illness outbreaks, there are other important players as well, such as consumer and producer groups, trade associations and advocacy organizations.

The world of food safety is changing. The food industry is more centralized, and at the same time consumers are demanding more local, less processed foods.

Beyond that, pathogens are more virulent – although luckily, surveillance systems are better. It means people might get sicker from bad food than they used to, even if regulators spot the outbreak more quickly.

What should consumers do? Four steps: cook, chill, clean, separate.

•  Cooking with heat kills germs, as long as you get it to the right temperature.

•  Chill in the refrigerator (40 degrees or below) or freezer (0 degrees). Pathogens love room temperature and grow fast when in it, she said.

•  Clean surfaces and utensils before and after use.

•  Separate raw and ready-to-eat foods; use separate cutting boards, plates and utensils for raw meat and produce or cooked foods.