Health Topic Categories

- Gastrointestinal -

June 14th, 2016


Food Poisoning Avoidance

DEFINITION

 

Food poisoning is any illness caused by the consumption of food or water contaminated with bacteria or their toxins, or by parasites, viruses, or chemicals.

 

INCIDENCE

 

The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates 1 in 6 Americans (48 million people) are affected by foodborne illness annually and that 128,000 people are hospitalized and 3,000 die.

 

SYMPTOMS

 

Most cases of food poisoning are mild and self-limiting.  They produce symptoms of abdominal pain, headache, vomiting, diarrhea, and bloating.  Occasionally, the stool may be mucous or bloody, especially if bacteria are not confined to the lumen of the intestine but manage to penetrate the intestinal wall. Some food-borne microbes can produce a transient arthritis.  

 

The more serious types of food poisoning can produce life-threatening symptoms that affect the kidneys, liver, and nervous system.

 

HOW DOES FOOD AND WATER GET CONTAMINATED?  

 

Food poisoning is caused by the consumption of contaminated food or water. Contamination occurs during production, processing, distribution, or preparation.

 

Production Contamination

  • A sick hen can produce eggs that are contaminated even before they are laid. 
  • Contaminated water used for irrigation can contaminate the fruits and vegetables before they are harvested.   
  • Fish may become contaminated from the smaller sea creatures that they ingest.

Processing Contamination

  • Contaminated water used to wash fruits and vegetables can contaminate those foods.
  • Peanut butter can become contaminated if roasted peanuts are stored in unclean conditions or contact contaminated unroasted peanuts.
  • During the animal slaughter process, bacteria from the animal’s intestines can contaminate the meat.

Distribution Contamination

  • Refrigeration interruptions during storage or transportation can allow temperatures to rise sufficiently to allow bacterial growth. 
  • Fresh produce can be contaminated if transported in a truck that was not cleaned after transporting animals or animal products.     
  • Container or packaging damage during transportation can permit bacterial growth.

Preparation Contamination

  • Food preparation workers who do not adequately wash hands can spread pathogens from their hands to food.
  • Utensils such as knives or cutting boards used on raw poultry can, if not thoroughly washed, contaminate fruits or vegetables upon which they are subsequently used.

 

AN INCREASING PROBLEM

 

Although information is difficult to evaluate because of underreporting, the CDC is concerned that cases of food poisoning have been on the rise in recent years.  Some of the factors contributing to the increase are

  • Increases in imported foods, with over 50% of outbreaks being related to imported foods.
  • Changes in the environment.
  • Emerging bacteria and antibiotic resistance.

 

ANTIBIOTIC RESISTANCE

 

Injudicious use of antibiotics on the farm kills or arrests sensitive bacteria and allows resistant bacteria to proliferate. If these are transmitted from food-producing animals to humans through the food supply, they can produce severe, antibiotic-resistant infections in humans.

 

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) supports the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) recommendation that antibiotics important in treating humans be used in food-producing animals only under veterinary oversight and only to address animal health needs, not to promote growth.

 

PREVENTION

 

Due to a variety of factors, including warmer temperatures, foodborne illness increases in summer. Stay healthy and safe during warmer months by following these food safety recommendations:

 

At a picnic or cookout:

  • Use an insulated cooler filled with ice or frozen gel packs.  Frozen food is also a cold source.
  • Foods that need to be kept cold include raw meat, poultry, and seafood; deli and luncheon meats or sandwiches; summer salads (tuna, chicken, egg, pasta, or seafood); cut up fruit and vegetables; and perishable dairy products.
  • A full cooler will maintain its cold temperature longer than a partially filled one.  Keep the cooler out of the direct sun by placing it in the shade.
  • Avoid opening the cooler repeatedly to keep your food colder longer.

 

When cooking on the grill:

  • Use separate cutting boards and utensils for raw meat and ready-to-eat items like vegetables or bread.
  • Keep perishable food cold until it is ready to cook.
  • Use a food thermometer to make sure meat and poultry are cooked thoroughly to their safe minimum internal temperatures.  
    • Beef, Pork, Lamb, & Veal (steaks, roasts, and chops): 145 °F with a 3 minute rest time
    • Ground meats: 160 °F
    • Whole poultry, poultry breasts, & ground poultry: 165 °
  • Always use a fresh, clean plate and tongs for serving cooked food.  Never reuse items that touched raw meat or poultry to serve the food once it is cooked.

 

When serving food outdoors:

  • Perishable food should not sit out for more than two hours.  In hot weather (above 90 °F), food should NEVER sit out for more than one hour.
  • Serve cold food in small portions, and keep the rest in the cooler.  
  • After cooking meat and poultry on the grill, keep it hot until served – at 140 °F or warmer by setting it to the side of the grill rack.

 

When food shopping:

  • Check “sell-by” and “use-by” dates.  Do not buy products that are out of date.
  • Do not buy or use damaged, swollen, rusted, or dented cans.
  • Choose unbruised fruits and vegetables.
  • Do not eat “self-serve” foods or free food samples.
  • Do not buy or use cracked eggs.
  • As a rule, do not buy or use unrefrigerated eggs.  Eggs that have been treated to destroy Salmonella–by in-shell pasteurization, for example–are not required to carry safe handling instructions, but the labeling will usually say that they have been treated.
  • Pick up frozen and refrigerated items just before you check out at the grocery store.
  • Refrigerate groceries right away, and never leave perishable foods out for more than 2 hours.
  • Separate raw meat, poultry, and seafood from other items in your shopping cart and in your grocery bags.

 

When dining out:

  • Avoid high-risk food sources, such as salad bars, delicatessens, buffets, potlucks, and street food vendors.
  • Do not eat raw fruits or vegetables (i.e. salads) when eating out since you cannot be sure that these foods were properly washed.
  • Avoid “fresh-squeezed” juices; always ask if juices are pasteurized.
  • When taking food to-go, always put the food in the to-go container yourself instead of having the server do it for you.

 

Leftovers:

  • Before eating leftovers, be sure to reheat them to 165 °F, and use a food thermometer to measure the temperature.

 

CONCLUSION

 

Food poisoning is an item no one wants on his or her menu.  It is unpleasant at best and fatal at worst.  The Erie County Medical Society offers these recommendations to keep food poisoning off your menu and out of your diet for the summer and all year round.  Bon appetite!

 

Thomas Falasca, DO

 

MORE INFORMATION

Further information on food poisoning and food safety is available from these sources:

Enjoy this fun and informmative video from the Finnish Food Safety Authority!

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