Food Poisoning - An Overview

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					Food Poisoning - An Overview
What is Food Poisoning?
Food poisoning results when you eat food contaminated with bacteria or
other pathogens such as parasites or viruses. Your symptoms may range
from upset stomach to diarrhea, fever, vomiting, abdominal cramps and
dehydration. Most such infections go undiagnosed and unreported.
But the Center for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that each
year about 76 million people in the United States become ill from
pathogens in food, and about 5,000 of them die.
Over 55% of such cases are caused by improper cooking and storage of
foods, and 24% by poor hygiene, such as not washing your hands while
preparing food. Only 3% of cases are from unsafe food sources. Keeping
your hands clean while working with food is the single most important
thing you can do to prevent food poisoning.
About 20 organisms can cause food poisoning. After you eat food
contaminated with bacteria, they will multiply in your stomach and
bowels. Some bacteria give off a toxin when they multiply. As a result,
nausea, vomiting, abdominal cramps and diarrhea occur. Vomiting and
diarrhea are the body's way of eliminating the toxin, and most cases of
food poisoning run their course without needing medical attention.
Not all invasive organisms cause vomiting as a symptom, but almost all of
them cause diarrhea. Blood in your stool occurs in many types of food
poisoning and is considered to be serious. Abdominal cramps are also
common, and sometimes you will have a fever. Be sure to contact a
physician if a fever or bloody stools are present.
Common Sources of Food Poisoning
Campylobacter is the leading cause of bacterial food poisoning in the
USA. It causes several million cases a year, resulting in hundreds of
deaths. Eating undercooked chicken or food that has been in contact with
raw chicken most commonly causes campylobacter. The Center for Disease
Control estimates that up to 70%-90% of chickens are infected with
To prevent the disease, cook chicken thoroughly, with no pink remaining.
Wash your hands frequently when handling raw chicken. Use paper towels to
dry your hands. If you are using a sponge or dish-cloth to clean the
counters, use a fresh one after working with raw chicken. Wash your
cutting board with a diluted bleach solution before using again. And any
utensils or dishes having contact with raw chicken need to be washed and
rinsed with soap and water before using again.
E. coli 0157: H7 infection causes an estimated 25,000 cases of food
poisoning each year in the USA. Most of these result from undercooked,
contaminated ground beef. The organism lives in the intestines of healthy
cows. Meat can become contaminated during slaughter when intestinal fecal
matter is mixed with beef that is ground into hamburger. Contaminated
meat looks and smells normal, so it is not readily detectable. Bacteria
on cow udders or milking machines can also contaminate raw milk.
To prevent this form of food poisoning, cook all ground beef until no
pink is showing. Make sure all of the meat juices are clear, not pink or
red, and that the inside of the meat is hot. If you are served an
undercooked hamburger in a restaurant, send it back. Consume only
pasteurized milk products, and drink only water treated with chlorine or
other disinfectants.
Botulism is caused by clostridium botulinum, a spore-forming bacteria.
This form of food poisoning is very rare, but can be life-threatening. It
may result from eating improperly processed, low-acid foods such as green
beans, mushrooms, spinach, olives and beef or fish. Improper home canning
methods often account for botulism cases. Improperly processed commercial
products can also cause this serious disorder.
To avoid botulism, don't even taste canned food that is soft,
deteriorating, fermenting or doesn't smell right. It isn't worth a life-
threatening illness. When in doubt, throw it out.
Infant botulism is more common in spring and summer, and is rare in
winter. Infants younger than one year of age are at the highest risk.
Symptoms include muscle weakness, a weak cry, difficulty in feeding,
constipation, head lag, increased heart rate and a decreased gag reflex.
A baby with botulism is described as a "floppy baby," as the infant will
have weak muscles, especially in the arms, legs and neck.
Infant botulism has been associated with eating honey. The Center for
Disease Control suggests that honey should not be given to infants under
six months old, and the Honey Industry Council extends the safety limit
to one year. Honey is not an essential food for infants, and should never
be given to them.
Summary of Food Poisoning
Most symptoms such as nausea, vomiting, abdominal cramps and diarrhea are
due to viral infections and are not true cases of food poisoning. An
accurate diagnosis can be difficult because the pathogenic organisms are
found in different kinds of food and have varying incubation periods.
Also, eating a substance and getting sick immediately afterwards is not
the typical course for food poisoning. Most people are not aware that
food eaten several days previously can be the cause of food poisoning.
Always be sure to consult a physician when experiencing severe
gastrointestinal symptoms.
Information in this article was gathered from the Safety Information
website at and the National Digestive
Diseases Information Clearinghouse website at
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