While America’s food supply is the safest in the world, food poisoning is responsible for approximately 76 million illnesses in the United States each year. In fact, it is estimated that 60% or more of the raw poultry sold today probably has disease-causing bacteria. Anyone eating food contaminated by certain bacteria, parasites, or viruses can get food poisoning. Certain factors such as age and physical condition can make certain people more susceptible to food poisoning than others. Infants, pregnant women, the elderly and people with compromised immune systems are at greatest risk.
For most people in good condition, food poisoning is usually neither long lasting nor life-threatening. However, to less healthy individuals it can become a serious health threat, accounting for approximately 5,000 deaths each year.
The good news is that by taking simple precautionary steps while purchasing, handling, and preparing food you can prevent most cases of food poisoning in the home.
What causes food poisoning?
Food poisoning is most commonly caused by bacteria, parasites, or viruses that may be present in the food that you have eaten. You may have heard the names of many of these organisms. They include Escherichia coli (E coli), Campylobacter jejuni, Clostridium botulinum, Shigella, Salmonella, Staphylococcus aureus, Trichinella, and Hepatitis A virus, just to name a few. They can be present in a wide range of food including red meat, poultry, milk and other dairy products, eggs, unpasteurized vegetable juices and ciders, spices, chocolate, seafood, and even water.
These organisms may be present on your food when it is bought or can get into the food, including cooked food, if the food comes into contact with raw meat juices on dirty utensils, cutting boards, or countertops used to prepare contaminated food. That’s why it is important not only to thoroughly cook your food, but to wash your hands, utensils, and countertops, before and after you handle raw foods.
What are the symptoms? Symptoms will vary depending on the type and amount of contaminants eaten. Some people may get ill after ingesting only a small amount of harmful bacteria, while others may remain free of symptoms after eating larger quantities. The most common symptoms of food poisoning include nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, stomach pain (cramps), fever, headache, and fatigue. Symptoms may develop as soon as 30 minutes after eating tainted food, but more commonly do not develop for several days or weeks. Symptoms of viral or parasitic food poisoning may not appear for several weeks, while some toxins in fish may take only a few minutes to cause symptoms.
If you have botulism, you probably will not have a fever and the symptoms may include blurred vision, fatigue, dry mouth and throat.
How food poisoning is diagnosed Food poisoning is often suspected when several people become ill after eating the same meal. To diagnose the cause of the illness, your doctor will need to know the symptoms and what was eaten right before the illness occurred. The doctor may need samples of the food, bowel movements, or vomit. These samples can be tested in a laboratory to determine if the food was contaminated and identify the organism causing the illness.
How is it treated? If the symptoms are severe, the victim should see a doctor or get emergency care. Treatment depends on the severity and cause of the food poisoning. Generally, for mild cases of food poisoning, the doctor will recommend for you to rest, drink fluids to prevent dehydration due to vomiting or diarrhea, and to follow a specific diet. It usually only takes about 1 to 5 days to recover from food poisoning.
If you have botulism, your doctor will prescribe an antitoxin. Other types of food poisoning have no antidote. Antibiotics are usually not helpful in treating food poisoning. Medicine to stop vomiting and stomach cramping may be given.
Prevention is the best approach to avoid food poisoning Most cases of food poisoning can be prevented. Below is a list of a few simple Do’s and Don’ts to help you avoid food-borne illness in the home.
● Do wash your hands, utensils, cutting boards, and countertops between different foods
● Do hrefrigerate or freeze perishables right away (Refrigerator temperature should be 41˚ F and freezer 0˚F)
● Do thoroughly cook foods. Cook beef, lamb, and pork to an internal temperature of 160˚F; whole poultry and thighs to 180˚F; poultry breasts to 170˚F, ground chicken or turkey to 165˚F
● Do hrefrigerate leftover foods as soon as possible; leftovers shouldn’t remain unrefrigerated longer than 2 hours.
● While food shopping, do select frozen foods and perishables such as meat, poultry, and fish last- before checking out
● Do use smooth cutting boards made of hard maple or plastic that are free of cracks and crevices
● Do store raw meats in leak-proof containers or on the bottom of the hrefrigerator to prevent juices from dripping on other foods
● Don’t allow uncooked meats, meat juices, or unwashed fruits and vegetables to come in contact with either cooked or washed foods
● Don’t buy frozen seafood if the packages are open, torn, or crushed on the edges
● Don’t buy food in cans that are bulging or dented, or in jars that are cracked
● Don’t ever buy outdated food. Check the “use by” or “sell by” dates
● Don’t buy unpasteurized milk or dairy products
● Do not buy hrefrigerated or frozen products that are not displayed at the proper temperature
● Do not let small children put foods away unsupervised