Avoid Food Poisoning at Home

Learn Poisoning Signs and Symptoms, Cause, Prevention and Treatment

Food poisoning can cause more than vomiting and diarrhea. In susceptible people, food poisoning can lead to complications that require hospitalization.

Food Poisoning is Common

The risk of food poisoning is on the rise, due to consumer indifference and because of manufacturer’s efforts to increase the shelf life of foods. Consumers value convenience over safety. When consumers bother to consider the health effects of food, their concerns focus on weight-related issues like trans fats.

Another reason food poisoning is on the rise is because the list of organisms that cause food poisoning continues to expand. Two decades ago, no one had heard of e. coli. Now this bacterium tops the list of notorious microbes that cause illness and even death when consumed.

Causes of Food Poisoning

Bacteria can cause food poisoning symptoms by invading the intestines directly, or by producing toxins that cause illness. The microbes that cause food-borne illness are very tough. For example, Listeria monocyogenes, which causes serious illness in pregnant women, can grow at common refrigeration temperatures of 40 degrees F. Clostridium botulinum, which causes the deadly botulism poisoning, can survive 20 minutes of boiling temperatures in low-acid foods.

Signs and Symptoms of Food Poisoning

Many illnesses that people attribute to the “flu” are, in fact, cases of food poisoning. Common symptoms of many food-borne illnesses are the same: nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, abdominal cramps, and headache. The difference between microbes shows up in the time of onset of illness. Short-acting bacteria can cause symptoms within hours of consumption. Staphylococcus aureus, Salmonella and Clostridium perfringens produce flu-like symptoms anywhere from two to 72 hours after consumption. Long-acting bacteria don’t cause illness for days, which can make it difficult to pinpoint the source of the food poisoning. For example, Listeria can take up to 21 days to cause signs of food poisoning.

Prevention of Food Poisoning

Practice strict cleanliness and sanitation in the kitchen:

Wash hands with hot, soapy water before handling any food. Rewash hands after handling raw meat, poultry or eggs.
Wash produce before eating, including produce with inedible skins or rinds. Knives can drag microbes into the interior of melons.
Prevent cross-contamination of foods by using separate cutting boards for raw meat and cooked foods or produce. Sanitize plastic cutting boards in the dishwasher, and reserve wooden cutting boards for cooked foods.
Don’t cough or sneeze over foods, even if you aren’t sick. The Staph bacteria that cause food poisoning live in everyone’s nasal passages year-round.

Keep hot foods hot:

Cook beef to an internal temperature of 160 degrees. Don’t rely on the color of hamburger to test for doneness; use a meat thermometer.
Cook poultry to an internal temperature of 180 degrees. Avoid consuming eggs prepared over-easy. Cook fried eggs until the yolk is firm, or eat scrambled eggs instead.
Reheat leftovers to a temperature of at least 165 degrees to kill any bacteria that may have started to grow. Reheat leftover soups and gravies to a full boil.
Keep hot foods on your buffet at a temperature of at least 140 degrees.

Keep cold foods cold:

Store refrigerated foods at 40 degrees or below. Speed the cooling of refrigerated items quickly by dividing leftovers into shallow pans or by plunging containers into an ice bath before refrigerating.
Never thaw meats on the countertop. Thaw them in the refrigerator. If quick thawing is essential, use the microwave’s defrost function.

Treatment of Food Poisoning

Drink ample fluids as tolerated. Symptoms should dissipate within three days. Young children, the elderly, and patients with compromised immune systems are more likely than the general population to experience serious complications. If any patient experiences fever, blood in the stool, or signs of dehydration, call a doctor.

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