Thursday, October 1, 2009

Food poisoning

Next time you get an upset stomach which lasts a day or more, chances are high that it was food poisoning. Eating contaminated food which contain infectious organisms – various bacteria, viruses, parasites or their toxins are the most common cases of food poisoning.

Symptons vary with the source of contamination. Most types of food poisoning cause one or more of the following signs and symptoms: Vomiting, nausea, diarrhea, abdominal pain, stomach cramps, loss of appetite, fatigue, fever. Signs and symptoms may start within hours after eating the contaminated food, or they may begin days later. Sickness caused by food poisoning generally lasts from one to 10 days.

As many as a quarter of Americans suffer a food-borne illness each year (approximately 1 in 4 americans). The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that in the United States, food poisoning causes about 76 million illnesses, 325,000 hospitalizations, and up to 5,000 deaths each year. One of the most common bacterial forms of infection, the salmonellae organisms, account for $1 billion in medical costs and lost work time.

Food can be contaminated at any point during its processing or production. Contamination can also occur at home if food is incorrectly handled, improperly cooked or inadequately stored. Illness is not inevitable after you eat contaminated food. The effects depend on the contaminant, the degree of contamination, your age and your health.

Contamination of food can also happen at any point during its production: growing, harvesting, processing, storing, shipping or preparing. Cross-contamination — the transfer of harmful organisms from one surface to another — is often the cause. Be careful of raw, ready-to-eat foods, such as salads or other produce. Because these foods aren't cooked, harmful organisms aren't destroyed before eating and can cause food poisoning.

Salad bars are hot spots for the top cause of food poisoning, the Norwalk virus. Hundreds of people breath on the salad and the virus loves water.**

"If you're eating deli meats, the safest is to eat fresh, recently cut, or immediately cut deli meat, not something that has been already processed and put into another package," according to Dr. David Clain of Beth Israel Medical Center. Deli meats can become infected with bacteria during the packaging process.

Alfalfa sprouts are a top offender. The seeds can be contaminated with salmonella and E. coli. E. coli causes 73,000 illnesses a year, often from undercooked meat or even street food stands but now it's popping up more and more in fruits and vegetables.

The risk from chicken isn't only from eating it rare. The bacteria campylobacter is transferred from the meat to other foods during cooking. If you use the same board to chop up the salad as you did to prepare your chicken, the inevitable will bound to happen! Campylobacter is blamed (one of the most common bacterial causes of diarrheal illness in the United States.)

Contaminant Onset of symptoms Foods affected and means of transmission

Campylobacter 2 to 5 days
Meat and poultry. Contamination occurs during processing if animal feces contact meat surfaces. Other sources include unpasteurized milk and contaminated water.

Escherichia coli (E.coli) 1 to 8 days
Beef contaminated during slaughter. Spread mainly by undercooked ground beef. Other sources include unpasteurized milk and apple cider, alfalfa sprouts, and contaminated water.

Hepatitis A 28 days
Raw, ready-to-eat produce and shellfish from contaminated water. Can be spread by an infected food handler.

Listeria 9 to 48 hours
Hot dogs, luncheon meats, unpasteurized milk and cheeses, and unwashed raw produce. Can be spread through contaminated soil and water.

Salmonella 1 to 3 days
Raw or contaminated meat, poultry, milk or egg yolks. Survives inadequate cooking. Can be spread by knives, cutting surfaces or an infected food handler.

Other types not discussed are botulism( transmitted in foods such as home-packed canned goods, honey, sausages, seafood), shigella (traveler’s diarrhea), mushroom toxins, pesticide toxins amongst many others.

Wash your hands, utensils, cutting boards and food surfaces often with warm, soapy water.

Keep raw foods (meat, fish, shellfish) separate from ready-to-eat foods to prevent cross-contamination

Cook foods to a safe temperature and use a food thermometer. You can kill harmful organisms in most foods by cooking them to temperatures between 145 F (62.8 C) and 165 F (73.9 C).

Refrigerate or freeze perishable foods promptly within two hours of purchasing or preparing them. If the room temperature is above 90 F (32.2 C), refrigerate perishable foods within one hour. Put food in the freezer if you don't expect to eat it within two days.

Defrost food safely. Do not thaw foods at room temperature. The safest way to thaw foods is to defrost foods in the refrigerator or to microwave the food using the "defrost" or "50 percent power" setting. Running cold water over the food also safely thaws the food.

Throw it out when in doubt. If you aren't sure if a food has been prepared, served or stored safely, discard it. Food left at room temperature too long may contain bacteria or toxins that can't be destroyed by cooking. Don't taste food that you're unsure about — just throw it out. Even if it looks and smells fine, it may not be safe to eat.

Food poisoning often improves on its own within 48 hours. To nurse yourself back to health and prevent dehydration while you recover, try the following:
- Stop eating and drinking for a few hours to let your stomach settle

- Drink water, seltzer clear broths or Noncaffeinated sports drinks such as Gatorade.
You should drink at least 8-16 glasses of liquid every day taking small, frequent
sips. To judge if you’re getting enough fluid, your urine should be clear not dark.

- Ease back into eating with easy-to-digest foods such as toast, crackers, bananas
and rice. Stop eating if your nausea returns.

- Avoid certain foods and substances until you're feeling better. These include dairy
products, caffeine, alcohol, nicotine, and fatty or highly seasoned foods.

- The illness and dehydration may have made you weak and tired.So get plenty of rest!

- Don't use anti-diarrheal medications. Drugs intended to treat diarrhea, such as
loperamide (Imodium) and diphenoxylate with atropine (Lomotil), may slow
elimination of bacteria or toxins from your system and can make your condition

You can never be 100% immune to food bourne illnesses, but minimizing any risks factors will keep the chances of food poisoning slim. Be conscious of where you buy your food and how it’s prepared. Of course a healthy immune system and a well balanced diet will help you in the fight against those nasty toxins and bacteria as well. The winter is coming and a good immune system will go a long way.

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