December 1 is World AIDS Day and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is guiding those living with Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV) or Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome (AIDS) on how protecting yourself from foodborne illness and safely handling food. 

For individuals with HIV or AIDS, practicing food safety is critical because their immune systems may be damaged or destroyed, making them susceptible to foodborne illness or "food poisoning." A person with HIV or AIDS who contracts a foodborne illness is more likely to have a lengthier illness, undergo hospitalization, or even die. 

Know the Food Risks

Some foods are more risky for people with HIV or AIDS because they are more likely to contain harmful bacteria or viruses. In general, these foods fall into two categories:

  • Uncooked fresh fruits and vegetables. 
  • Certain animal products, such as unpasteurized (raw) milk; soft cheeses made with raw milk; raw or undercooked eggs; raw meat, raw poultry, raw fish, raw shellfish and their juices; and luncheon meats and deli-type salads (without added preservatives) prepared on-site in a deli-type establishment.

Follow the Four Steps to Food Safety

Anyone preparing food should also follow these steps to lower their risk for foodborne illness:

  • CLEAN: Wash hands and surfaces often. Bacteria can be spread throughout the kitchen and get onto hands, cutting boards, utensils, countertops, and food. 
  • SEPARATE: Keep raw meat, poultry, seafood and their juices, and raw eggs away from ready-to-eat foods. 
  • COOK to the right temperatures. Use a food thermometer to ensure meat, poultry, seafood, and egg products are cooked to a safe minimum internal temperature to destroy any harmful bacteria. 
  • CHILL foods promptly. Cold temperatures slow the growth of harmful bacteria. Use an appliance thermometer to be sure the refrigerator temperature is 40 degrees F or below and the freezer temperature is 0 degrees F or below.

Know the Symptoms

Consuming dangerous foodborne bacteria will usually cause illness within one to three days of eating contaminated food. However, sickness can also occur within 20 minutes or up to six weeks later.

Symptoms of foodborne illness include vomiting, diarrhea, abdominal pain, and flu-like symptoms (such as fever, headache, and body ache). These symptoms can be worse for someone with a weakened immune system and lead to long term health effects or even death.

Take Action

If you think that you have a foodborne illness, contact your healthcare provider immediately. Also, report this to the FDA by contacting the Consumer Complaint Coordinator in your area, or Contacting MedWatch, or calling 1-800-FDA-1088.

No one has to reveal their HIV status to the FDA when submitting a complaint.