According to the World Health Organization; an estimated 600 million – almost 1 in 10 people in the world – fall ill after eating contaminated food and 420 000 die every year, resulting in the loss of 33 million healthy life years. More so, foodborne diseases impede socioeconomic development by straining healthcare systems and harming national economies, tourism and trade. (WHO)
This post presents information on the various subjects of food poisoning to help curb it. We have in this piece;
- What is food poisoning?
- Causes of food poisoning.
- Symptoms of food poisoning
- Preventing food poisoning.
What is food poisoning?
Food poisoning is the illness caused by bacteria and other toxins in food, causing diarrhoea and vomiting.
Causes of food poisoning
Bacteria, viruses and other parasites may be the cause of food poisoning. Contamination of food can happen during the food production process; growing, harvesting, carting, processing, storage, shipping and even during the preparation of the food. If not handled properly, it can also be contaminated at the table when served.
***Cross-contamination — the transfer of harmful organisms from one surface to another ***
Raw foods such as fruits and vegetables that are eaten uncooked can easily cause food poisoning. This is because these foods are not cooked. The harmful organisms on foods are killed during cooking.
Here are some possible contaminants;
Onset of symptoms
Foods affected and means of transmission
|Campylobacter||2 to 5 days||Meat and poultry. Contamination occurs during processing if animal faeces contact meat surfaces. Other sources include unpasteurized milk and contaminated water.|
|Clostridium botulinum||12 to 72 hours||Home-canned foods with low acidity, improperly canned commercial foods, smoked or salted fish, potatoes baked in aluminium foil, and other foods kept at warm temperatures for too long.|
|Clostridium perfringens||8 to 16 hours||Meats, stews and gravies. Commonly spread when serving dishes don’t keep food hot enough or food is chilled too slowly.|
|Escherichia coli (E. coli) O157: H7||1 to 8 days||Beef contaminated with faeces during slaughter. Spread mainly by undercooked ground beef. Other sources include unpasteurized milk and apple cider, alfalfa sprouts, and contaminated water.|
|Giardia lamblia||1 to 2 weeks||Raw, ready-to-eat produce and contaminated water. Can be spread by an infected food handler.|
|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.|
|Noroviruses (Norwalk-like viruses)||12 to 48 hours||Raw, ready-to-eat produce and shellfish from contaminated water. Can be spread by an infected food handler.|
|Rotavirus||1 to 3 days||Raw, ready-to-eat produce. Can be spread by an infected food handler.|
|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.|
|Shigella||24 to 48 hours||Seafood and raw, ready-to-eat produce. Can be spread by an infected food handler.|
|Staphylococcus aureus||1 to 6 hours||Meats and prepared salads, cream sauces, and cream-filled pastries. Can be spread by hand contact, coughing and sneezing.|
|Vibrio vulnificus||1 to 7 days||Raw oysters and raw or undercooked mussels, clams, and whole scallops. Can be spread through contaminated seawater.|
Symptoms of food poisoning
How do you tell, you have food poisoning?
The symptoms of food poisoning may vary with the source or medium of contamination. Commonly, food poisoning may cause one or more of the following signs and symptoms;
- Abdominal pain and cramps.
Signs and symptoms may start within hours after eating the contaminated food, or they may begin days or even weeks later. Sickness caused by food poisoning generally lasts from a few hours to several days.
Treatment of food poisoning may include:
- Replacement of lost fluids. The diarrhoea and vomiting lead to loss of fluids and electrolytes — minerals such as sodium, potassium and calcium that maintain the balance of fluids in your body and must be replaced. When vomiting or diarrhoea persists, hospitalization may be needed for the patient to receive salts and fluids through a vein (intravenously), to prevent or treat dehydration.
- Antibiotics. The doctor may prescribe antibiotics if you have certain kinds of bacterial food poisoning and your symptoms are severe. Food poisoning caused by listeria needs to be treated with intravenous antibiotics during hospitalization. The sooner treatment begins, the better. During pregnancy, prompt antibiotic treatment may help keep the infection from affecting the baby.
Preventing Food Poisoning
To prevent food poisoning, observe these points;
Wash your hands, utensils and food surfaces often
To prevent food poisoning, wash your hands well with warm, soapy water before and after handling or preparing food. Use hot, soapy water to wash utensils, cutting boards and other surfaces you use.
Keep raw foods separate from ready-to-eat foods
When shopping, preparing food or storing food, keep raw meat, poultry, fish and shellfish away from other foods. This prevents cross-contamination.
Cook foods to a safe temperature
The best way to tell if foods are cooked to a safe temperature is to use a food thermometer. You can kill harmful organisms in most foods by cooking them to the right temperature. Also, cook ground beef to 160 F (71.1 C); steaks, roasts chops, such as lamb, pork and veal, to at least 145 F (62.8 C). Cook chicken and turkey to 165 F (73.9 C). Make sure to cook fish and shellfish thoroughly.
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.
Defrost food safely
Don’t thaw food at room temperature. The safest way to thaw food is to defrost it in the refrigerator. If you microwave frozen food using the “defrost” or “50% power” setting, be sure to cook it immediately.
Throw it out when in doubt
If you aren’t sure if 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 is especially serious and potentially life-threatening for young children, pregnant women and their fetuses, older adults, and people with weakened immune systems. These individuals should take extra precautions by avoiding the following foods:
- Raw or rare meat and poultry
- Raw or undercooked fish or shellfish, including oysters, clams, mussels and scallops
- Raw or undercooked eggs or foods that may contain them, such as cookie dough and homemade ice cream
- Raw sprouts, such as alfalfa, beans, clover and radish sprouts
- Unpasteurized juices and ciders
- Unpasteurized milk and milk products
- Soft cheeses, such as feta, Brie and Camembert; blue-veined cheese; and unpasteurized cheese
- Refrigerated pates and meat spreads
- Uncooked hot dogs, luncheon meats and deli meats.
Food poisoning (Mayo Clinic)
Food safety (World Health Organization)