Whenever you're making home-cooked food, it's important to prepare, cook and store foods properly to prevent foodborne illness. Summer is the time for picnics, cookouts and favorite warm weather foods like salads and barbeque, while the colder months usher in a harvest of amazing fruits and vegetables at family gatherings with favorite foods like turkey and ham, among others. Regardless of the season, if food is not properly prepared, bacteria or parasites can contaminate meats, vegetables, and dairy, causing mild to severe digestive problems.
In addition, regional and national food recalls due to bacterial or foreign materials (like plastic filaments) contamination are becoming more prevalent. In 2017, there were 457 food recalls in the United States. The top five reasons for food recalls were:
- Undeclared allergens such as milk, soy or peanuts
- Escherichia coli (E.coli)
- Foreign materials
Stomach problems can arise after ingesting foods where organisms have settled because they have not been cooked thoroughly or kept cold. Symptoms of foodborne illness – or food poisoning – include:
- Watery or bloody diarrhea
- Stomach cramps
- Blurry vision
What Causes a Foodborne Illness?
Bacteria, parasites and other microorganisms can invade foods during production or when not stored or cooked at the proper temperatures. The U.S. Department of Agriculture estimates 48 million cases of foodborne illness and 3,000 deaths each year.
The major reasons for foodborne illnesses are:
- Inadequate or improper handwashing by food handlers
- Cross-contamination across food prep and cooking surfaces
- Inadequate or improper storage and cooking temperatures
- Contamination by animal waste or tainted water
Food contaminants can be found on vegetables, chicken, beef, seafood and other fresh foods when you bring them home. That’s why it is important to properly clean and cook foods before eating.
Being aware of what illness-causing microorganisms could be lurking in your foods is a first step to staying healthy. Parasites like Giardia lamblia and bacteria such as listeria and Shigella can infect raw and ready-to-eat produce. Bacteria like Vibrio vulnificus and noroviruses can be found in shellfish like raw oysters, mussels and scallops sourced from contaminated waters.
Ground meat, veal, pork, lamb, and poultry should be cooked with an internal temperature up to 165 degrees, according to the USA, to kill any bacteria or organisms such as Campylobacter, clostridium perfringens (C.perfringens) and Escherichia coli (E.coli).
Salmonella can be found in raw poultry, milk, or egg yolks and be spread via contaminated kitchen counters, sinks, and other food prep areas. Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) can contaminate unrefrigerated salads, cream sauces, and cream-filled pastries.
Washing fruits and vegetables can help remove both dirt and bacteria but also residual pesticides which can cause gastric distress in some individuals, according to the Colorado State University Extension program which focuses on agriculture. Its guidelines recommends washing produce under running water and using a vegetable brush on fruits or veggies with a hard skin or rind.
View this Righttime article with strategies for preventing foodborne illness.
Who is Most Susceptible to Foodborne Illness?
Seniors, pregnant women, individuals with compromised immune systems and young children are most at risk of becoming ill after eating contaminated foods.
The reason why they are more at risk is because of the uniqueness of their immune systems. The immune system is designed to ward off infections by triggering a defense response in the body. Older adults may be less able to fight off a bacterial infection, especially if they are on medications that reduce the protections the immune system provides. People with compromised immune systems such as those battling conditions such as cancer or HIV also may be too weak to ward off infections.
Conversely, the immune system in young children is not yet fully developed and cannot fight off contaminants and microorganisms as easily.
What to Do if Food Makes You Sick
If you eat something that makes you sick, it can take a few hours or even a few days before you recover. In the meantime, you can do a few things to help feel better.
- Stay hydrated. Diarrhea and vomiting saps vital fluids and electrolytes from the body. So it’s important to drink water or Gatorade® to prevent dehydration.
- Avoid caffeine. Coffee, tea, and soda cause dehydration.
- Try an OTC. Over-the-counter (OTC) medications like Pepto Bismol® or Imodium® can provide symptom relief.
- Rest your gut. Broths and clear liquids will give your digestive system a break. Stay away from sugary or spicy foods.
- Seek professional help. If your symptoms are getting worse, or not resolving in a day or so, visit your nearest urgent care center.
Call Righttime Medical Care at 1-888-808-6483 for an appointment at any of our convenient locations. Righttime is open 365 days a year and welcomes walk-in patients anytime, while also offering same-day appointments online or via its Call Center. Convenient services include x-rays, laboratory testing, patient portal, and electronic health records which are shared with patients' physicians, specialists and collaborating medical institutions. For more information, visit myRighttime.com.
U.S. Department of Agriculture
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
Food Safety Magazine