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Food Poisoning Tips
Food poisoning, acute illness following the eating of foods contaminated by bacteria, bacterial toxins, natural poisons, or harmful chemical substances. It was once customary to classify all such illnesses as ptomaine poisoning, but it was later discovered that ptomaines, the products of decayed protein, do not cause illness.
The symptoms, in varying degree and combination, include abdominal pain, vomiting, diarrhea, headache, and prostration; more serious cases can result in permanent disability or death.
Last Updated - 1st December 2005
Causes Of Food Poisoning
- Poisoning due to bacteria and toxins.
- Poisons of vegetable origin (natural food poisons) e.g. poisonous mushrooms, cottonseeds.
- Poisons of animal origin e.g. poisons fish, mussel.
- Chemical poisons accidentally added pesticides preservatives insecticides.
Bacterial Food Poisoning
In general, the bacteria that cause food poisoning do not affect the appearance, aroma, or flavor of food. The most common bacterial causes of food poisoning are Salmonella, staphylococcus, Escherichia coli, Listeria monocytogenes, Shigella, and Campylobacter jejuni. The symptoms may be caused by toxins produced by the bacteria. The most serious type of food poisoning caused by bacterial toxins is botulism, which results from toxins made by the bacterium Clostridium botulinum.
Salmonella, most notoriously spread via raw eggs, develops from 6 to 72 hours after exposure. Symptoms include severe diarrhea, fever and chills, vomiting, and abdominal cramps and usually last from three to five days. Staphylococcal food poisoning is actually caused by the potent toxins that they produce. Typical sources are unrefrigerated ham, poultry, potato or egg salad, and custards. Carriers and food handlers with staphylococcal skin infections are mainly responsible for the spread of staphylococcus toxin poisoning. The onset of symptoms from such poisoning (similar to those of Salmonella infection) occurs abruptly one to six hours after ingestion of the polluted food. The illness lasts from 24 to 48 hours; fatalities are rare.
Infection with a particular strain of the usually harmless E. coli began to appear in food poisoning cases from the 1980s on, typically in raw or undercooked ground meat. Onset of symptoms comes one to eight days after eating the contaminated food. Symptoms include bloody diarrhea, nausea, and sporadic vomiting, with or without fever. It can progress to kidney failure and death, especially in children.
Listeriosis, caused by the bacterium Listeria monocytogenes, is spread in soft cheeses, undercooked meats, and prepared foods from delicatessen counters. Its onset is abrupt. Symptoms vary with the person's immune status and may include fever, muscle aches, fatigue, and nausea. The illness is especially serious for the very young or for pregnant women, who may miscarry or transmit blood infections or meningitis to the baby. In adults, the disease can progress to central nervous system complications, endocarditis, or pneumonia, and is an especially serious threat to the elderly.
Shigella is spread by contaminated food or from person to person (principally via a fecal-oral route). New strains of bacteria of the genus Shigella have been associated with food poisoning from ground meat. Symptoms include watery diarrhea, abdominal cramps, and bloody mucus in the stools.
Campylobacter enteritis is caused by either of two species of the Campylobacter bacterium. The bacterium is ubiquitous in uncooked poultry. Symptoms (diarrhea, fever, chills, headache) arise 2 to 11 days after exposure and last one to two weeks. Although usually mild, the infection can cause Guillain-Barré syndrome, a weakness of the peripheral nerves that can lead to paralysis and death.
Treatment for Bacterial Food Poisoning
- Treatment for most bacterial food poisoning includes rest, sedation, and replacement of fluid loss if necessary.
- Antibiotics usually are used only in severe cases.
- Preventive measures in the home include thorough cooking and prompt refrigeration of meats and eggs, washing and peeling fruits and vegetables (and avoiding uncooked produce entirely if a person has a compromised immune system), washing of cooking surfaces and utensils that may have been contaminated by uncooked foods, and careful handwashing after use of the toilet.
Food Poisoning by Natural Poisons and Metals
Nonbacterial food poisoning may occur after eating foods that contain a naturally occurring or acquired deleterious substance. Ingestion of poisonous mushrooms or toadstools (see mushroom poisoning) may be followed in a matter of several minutes to two hours by severe thirst, abdominal cramps, diarrhea, vomiting, sweating, dizziness, confusion, collapse, coma, and, occasionally, convulsions. Poisoning may occur also after the ingestion of immature or sprouting potatoes because of the presence of solanine, an alkaloid. Mussels and clams that have fed on poisonous plankton also are a cause of food poisoning, since the poisonous substance is not destroyed by cooking. Ergot poisoning, caused by ingestion of rye grain infected with that fungus, causes damage to the blood vessels and gangrene, as well as gastrointestinal and neurologic symptoms.
It is also possible to take into the body poisons such as arsenic, lead, or mercury via foods that have been accidentally contaminated or sprayed with preservatives and not properly cleansed before ingestion. Food stored in containers lined with cadmium has been known to cause poisoning. Typical symptoms of this sort of food poisoning (diarrhea, vomiting) may occur right away; the nervous system and respiratory systems may be affected with continued exposure.
Food Poisoning Treatments
- Do not eat solid food while nauseous or vomiting but drink plenty of fluids.
- Small, frequent sips of clear liquids (those you can see through) are the best way to stay hydrated.
- Avoid alcoholic, caffeinated, or sugary drinks, if possible. Over-the-counter rehydration products made for children such as Pedialyte and Rehydralyte are expensive but good to use if available.
- Sports drinks such as Gatorade and Powerade are fine for adults if they are diluted with water because at full strength they contain too much sugar, which can worsen diarrhea.
- After successfully tolerating fluids, eating should begin slowly, when nausea and vomiting have stopped. Plain foods that are easy on the stomach should be started in small amounts. Consider eating rice, wheat, breads, potatoes, cereals (low-sugar cereals), lean meats, and chicken (not fried) to start. Milk can be given safely, although some people may experience additional stomach upset due to lactose intolerance.
- Most food poisonings do not require the use of over-the-counter medicines to stop diarrhea, but they are generally safe if used as directed. It is not recommended that these medications be given to children. If there is a question or concern, you should always check with your doctor.
- The main treatment for food poisoning is putting fluids back in the body (the process of rehydration) through an IV and by drinking. You may need to be admitted to the hospital. This depends on the severity of the dehydration, your response to therapy, and your ability to drink fluids without vomiting. Children, in particular, may need close observation.
- Antivomiting and diarrhea medications may be given.
- The doctor may also treat any fever to make you more comfortable.
- Antibiotics are rarely needed for food poisoning. In some cases, antibiotics would worsen it. Only a few specific causes are improved by using these medications. The length of illness with travelers diarrhea (shigellae) can be decreased with antibiotics, but this specific illness usually runs its course and improves without treatment.
- With mushroom poisoning or eating foods contaminated with pesticides, aggressive treatment may include pumping the stomach (lavage) or giving medications as antidotes. These poisonings are very serious and may require intensive care in the hospital.
- Safe steps in food handling, cooking, and storage are essential to avoiding food-borne illness. You cannot see, smell, or taste bacteria, which may be on any food.
- Follow these food safety guidelines to keep contaminants away.
- Safe shopping
- Buy cold foods last. Get it home fast.
- Never choose torn or leaking packages.
- Do not buy foods past their "sell-by" or expiration dates.
- Keep raw meat and poultry separate from other foods.
- Place refrigerated or frozen items in the shopping cart last, right before heading for the checkout counter.
- Safe storage of foods
- Keep it safe; refrigerate.
- Unload perishable foods first and immediately refrigerate them. Place raw meat, poultry, or fish in the coldest section of your refrigerator.
- Check the temperature of your appliances. To slow bacterial growth, the refrigerator should be at 40°F, the freezer at 0°F.
- Cook or freeze fresh poultry, fish, ground meats, and variety meats within 2 days.
- Safe food preparation
- Keep everything clean!
- Wash hands before and after handling raw meat and poultry.
- Sanitize cutting boards often in a solution of 1 teaspoon chlorine bleach in 1 quart of water.
- Do not cross-contaminate. Keep raw meat, poultry, fish, and their juices away from other food. After cutting raw meats, wash hands, cutting board, knife, and counter tops with hot, soapy water.
- Marinate meat and poultry in a covered dish in the refrigerator. Discard any uncooked/unused marinade.
- Thawing food safely
- Refrigerator: Allows slow, safe thawing. Make sure thawing juices do not drip on other foods.
- Cold water: For faster thawing, place food in a leak-proof plastic bag and submerge in cold tap water.
- Microwave: Cook meat and poultry immediately after microwave thawing.
- Safe cooking
- Use a meat thermometer.
- Cook ground meats to 160°F; ground poultry to 165°F. Beef, veal, and lamb steaks, roasts and chops may be cooked to 145°F; all cuts of fresh pork, 160°F. Whole poultry should reach 180°F in the thigh; breasts 170°F.
- Keep hot foods hot and cold foods cold.
- Never leave food out more than 2 hours (or more than 1 hour in temperatures above 90°F).
- Bacteria that cause food poisoning grow rapidly at room temperature.
- Use cooked leftovers within 4 days.
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