by Kimberly Allen R.N.
Food poisoning is the term the general public uses for foodborne illnesses. A foodborne illness is any illness that develops from contaminated food consumption. In the US it is estimated that 1 in 6 people will develop a foodborne illness. The CDC estimates that in the US there will be 48 million cases of foodborne illnesses, with 128,000 hospitalizations and as many as 3,000 deaths every year. Worldwide foodborne illnesses are one of the leading causes of death. There are also many cases of foodborne3 illnesses that are not reported so some believe the actual numbers are much higher.
Most foodborne illnesses develop because of improper handling and/or storage of food. Scientists have discovered over 250 illnesses that are caused by the consumption of contaminated food, They have also determined several causes of foodborne illnesses, however, they also estimate that approximately 68% of all foodborne illnesses are from unknown causes. The known causes of foodborne illnesses are divided into 2 categories.
1. Infectious agents, which includes bacteria, viruses, and parasites.
2. Toxic agents these include things like poisonous mushrooms or exotic foods that have not been properly prepared. Also, fruits and vegetables that have been contaminated with pesticides.
Food can become contaminated at anytime during production from growing and harvesting to preparation and storage as well as processing and shipping. One of the most common causes of food contamination is cross-contamination. Cross-contamination is “the transfer of harmful organisms from one surface to another”. food that we eat raw like salads and vegetables, or fruit are particularly susceptible because they are not cooked therefore harmful contaminants aren’t destroyed before we eat them. The two most common contaminants responsible for foodborne illnesses are salmonella and norovirus with salmonella also causing the most deaths followed by toxoplasma and listeria.
Depending on the contaminant responsible for the foodborne illness symptoms can develop anywhere from 30 minutes to weeks after consumption of contaminated food. The symptoms of foodborne illnesses also vary depending on the contaminant responsible for the illness. However, common contaminants can cause you to experience nausea and vomiting as well as abdominal cramping and diarrhea. In most cases you will also have a fever which can be mild or severe depending on the contaminant and severity of illness.
How your body reacts to exposure to contaminated food depends on several factors. Some people can eat contaminated foods without becoming ill while others become severely ill. Older adults, women that are pregnant, people suffering from chronic diseases, especially auto immune diseases, and the very young have a higher risk of developing a foodborne illness as well as complications from them.
For the majority of people most foodborne illnesses resolve themselves in a few days to a week with rest and fluid replacement. However, there are some that will require further treatment. One of the most important things to do whether on your own or in the hospital is to replace the fluids lost due to vomiting and diarrhea. The preferred method is to increase oral fluids, in other words drink more water, juices, and many Drs recommend drinks like pedalyte or gatorade because of the electrolytes these drinks contain. Some people may require antibiotic treatment depending on the type of bacteria causing the infection.
Prevention of foodborne illnesses always starts with hand washing. Not only after using the bathroom but when cooking or preparing food. When handling food always wash your hands before then again after handling foods like raw meats before handling other foods like raw vegetables. Use separate cutting boards for meats and vegetables or if you only have one cutting board wash it wqith hot water and soap between uses, and if possible use for the vegetables first then the meat. It is also important to store and cook food safely. Storing the meat at a proper temperature before cooking and then cooking them to a safe temperature to kill any pathogens. And last but not least never eat food you’re unsure of. “When in doubt throw it out”.
Kimberly Allen is a registered nurse with an AND in nursing. She has worked in ACF, LCF and psychiatric facilities, although she spent most of her career as a home health expert. She is now a regular contributor to HealthAndFitnessTalk.com, dispensing advice and knowledge about medical issues and questions. You can reach her with any comments or questions at firstname.lastname@example.org.