Food poisoning. The name alone conjures up thoughts of becoming agonizingly familiar with your bathroom. Whether you’ve personally experienced it or know somebody who has, it is as dangerous a condition as it is uncomfortable.
But what exactly is food poisoning? Although we often use the term to refer to a bout of illness after eating, it is more dangerous than that general term implies. Let’s take a look today at a more precise definition of food poisoning. And we will talk a bit about prevention.
What is Food Poisoning?
The United States Center for Disease Control (CDC) establishes that food poisoning describes the onset of mild to severe symptoms after consuming a food-borne bacteria.
Unfortunately, the severity of the condition is not always readily apparent. While some strains of bacteria cause you to feel ill within minutes of consumption (staph), other viruses can take several days to catch up with you.
When food poisoning doesn’t present shortly after eating, the danger of the consequences increases. This peril stems from the fact that at the onset, you may attribute the first symptoms to a case of the flu, causing you to ignore it. Therefore, you must understand that some viruses, such as listeria, can take as long as four days to present itself.
What Are the Symptoms of Food Poisoning?
The symptoms of food poisoning are uncomfortable on their own. However, leaving them undiagnosed and without immediate medical treatment can lead to further complications, including dehydration, organ damage, or even death.
Here are some primary indicators that you might have a food-borne illness:
- Nausea or upset stomach
- Abdominal cramps
- Diarrhea–which can last for up to four days if undiagnosed
- A feeling of lightheadedness or dizziness
- Vomiting (cannot even keep in liquids)
- Blood in your stools
After you know these symptoms, it’s certainly easy to see how a person can mistake them for the flu virus! If you have any doubt, of any nature, about whether you have the flu or a food-related illness, seek medical advice. Food poisoning and severe bouts of influenza can both be deadly.
Who Is at Greatest Risk of Danger from Food Poisoning?
Food poisoning is not equally dangerous to everyone. One factor that science cites as an indicator of the severity of the outbreak is the patient’s general wellness. Everyone’s natural antibodies fight viruses and germs with a different level of efficacy.
So that statement means that a healthy millennial could dine at a restaurant with her elderly grandfather, and they share the same meal. Later, the millennial and gramps both get sick.
So the millennial becomes mildly ill, calls out of work the next day, and the virus runs its course. She’s well in a couple of days. However, the grandfather, whose immune system is weakened due to his age and other health conditions, becomes violently. In fact, he’s rushed to the hospital and placed on an IV for three days.
Same virus. Two very different outcomes.
Here are the people at the most significant risk:
Food-borne viruses can cause complications to the pregnancy. Unfortunately, it can also lead to loss of pregnancy in some cases.
Patients with a weakened immune system
People who have compromised immune systems resulting from other disorders also experience an increased chance of a severe case of this condition. This general group includes patients diagnosed with: diabetes, lupus, kidney disorders, cancer, HIV, or AIDS.
Children five years of age and younger also feel the impact of food poisoning more strongly than some others. This susceptibility arises from the fact that a human’s immune system is not developed wholly for about six years. This immaturity leaves our youngest children in grave danger from this illness.
As illustrated in our example earlier, senior citizens represent an at-risk group of people when food-borne illness strikes. Our immune system weakens with age, making it less capable of warding off viruses. Additionally, many develop other health conditions that complicated matters.
What Foods Are Most Likely to Carry Viruses?
So now you might be thinking you’ll pass on eating your next meal. However, knowing which foods are most likely to contain the germs that trigger illnesses gives you a healthy respect for handling them safely.
The foods which represent the most significant risk are:
- Poultry products–chicken and turkey
- Shellfish and seafood, especially when served raw
- Raw eggs
- Unpasteurized milk and milk products
- Uncooked flour (this ingredient, combined with raw eggs, is why you shouldn’t like the brownie batter!)
- Sprouts and vegetable greens
Food Safety Tips for at Home
Are you wondering how to protect your family? Here, you’ll find the food safety tips you should know when you are preparing meals for your loved ones.
Start food prep with a clean kitchen sink
Food safety begins sooner than you think! A kitchen sink is often referenced as the dirtiest place in a home. Clean and sanitize your sink to free it of germs and viruses before you begin cooking.
Wash your hands
So you wash your hands when you get ready to cook, right? Not so fast. While it’s essential to wash them up before preparing food, it’s also necessary to wash them several times while you cook!
If you are handling any foods from the list above, wash up every time you’ve come into contact!
Preparing vegetables and fruits
Before you peel your veggies, wash the outsides off thoroughly. They could be harboring bacteria, molds, or mildews. The peeling and slicing motions you will make during prep will push the bacteria further down into the vegetable or fruit.
It might make extra work when it’s time to make your favorite smoothie, but it’s worth the extra effort to prevent food poisoning!
Keep cutting boards sanitary
Skip the old fashioned wooden chopping blocks and opt instead for vinyl cutting mats. Why? Wood is porous and serves as a breeding ground for viruses.
The recommended mats come in multi-packs that allow you to color-code for different types of foods. You can reserve green for veggies, red for beef and meat, etc.
Besides the ability to keep the mats separate by food type, you can also sanitize them with a spray formula or put them into the dishwasher.
Thawing frozen foods
Do not leave meats or other frozen items out on the counter or immersed in cold water to thaw it out. The only safe way to thaw food is to move it from the freezer to the fridge during defrosting. This method takes longer, but it prohibits and viruses from activating inside the product.
Cook meats to the appropriate temperature
Here are the meat internal temperatures recommended by the Food Safety Council (all temperatures are in Fahrenheit). Use a meat thermometer to confirm whether the inside of the product is cooked to these minimal temperatures to ensure safety.
|Poultry: ground, breasts, roasts, all cuts||165|
|Ground pork, lamb, beef||160|
|Beef or lamb chops, roasts, steaks||145|
|Fresh pork roasts or hams||145|
|Reheating pre-packaged ham||165|
|Reheating leftovers from fridge||165|
|Eggs and egg products cook until firm or temp of||160|
|Shellfish, including crab, lobster, shrimp||When meat becomes opaque and firm|
|Fish||145, meat must be opaque and firm|
|Mollusks, mussels, oysters, or clams||Discard any with open shells before cooking (they are dead and decaying); cook until shells pop open.|
Your fridge should maintain an internal temperature of 32 to 40 degrees. Check this periodically with a thermometer to ensure that your fridge is running efficiently. It’s the only way to ensure safe cold storage.
Additionally, store your meats, vegetables, and leftover foods on separate shelves. While this looks really organized, the real reason is to help you stop cross-contamination of foods.
Discard suspicious leftovers promptly (at least once per week), and clean the inside of your fridge with food-safe sanitizing products every couple of weeks.
The Bottom Line: Safe Food Handling is Crucial
In closing, the connection between safe food handling and food poisoning is clear. The best thing is to prevent an outbreak of food poisoning. And it starts with you, in your kitchen, and following safe food handling practices.