It seems that every month or two, stories hit the news about food recalls. In the United States in 2019, extremely-localized recalls of beef, chicken, spinach, hummus, lettuce and other items have impacted our supermarkets, and sometimes were responsible for items leaving shelved. It may feel like it's almost too difficult to even keep up on what foods you should avoid in your supermarket, and what foods are safe. But, put in the simplest terms, various food recalls exist because the foods caused varying levels of food poisoning, ranging from the extreme in cases of e.coli and listeria outbreaks, to more minor cases of intestinal distress. Instead of trying to get ahead of any food safety issues in supermarkets, focus your efforts on understanding foodborne illnesses, how you get them and how popular terminology confuses what foodborne illnesses actually are. To get to the bottom of foodborne illnesses, you have to understand what the dreaded "stomach flu" is all about. "Stomach flu" isn't really a "flu" "There's a bug going around." It's a statement we hear all the time when multiple friends and family seem to get ill at once. Sometimes, the "bug" is influenza, commonly known as "the flu," which is a contagious respiratory infection that creates symptoms like fever, coughing and sore throat. But other times, people describe the "bug" as a "stomach flu." Words are deceiving, though. "Stomach flu" isn't a medical diagnosis at all. The symptoms that make you say "I have the stomach flu" are unrelated to the seasonal influenza virus, even though they are similar. What we call the "stomach flu" is actually gastroenteritis, which is a viral or bacterial infection that inflames the gastrointestinal tract and causes symptoms like diarrhea and vomiting. Under the umbrella of gastroenteritis are some of those other common terms we throw around, such as "food poisoning." What causes gastroenteritis? When those telltale symptoms like vomiting, diarrhea, stomach pain, cramping, nausea, and fever come on strong, there is an explanation as to why you're suddenly taking up permanent residency in your bathroom. Firstly, similar to the seasonal flu, you could simply come down with a viral infection that caused gastroenteritis. In children, the rotavirus is usually the culprit, causing most instances of vomiting and diarrhea in children. In adults, it's often the norovirus, which has received a lot of press after outbreaks in Colorado school districts and on cruise ships. If it's not a contagious viral infection, though, foodborne illness, commonly known as "food poisoning," is likely the culprit. Understanding "food poisoning" Somebody might say, "I think I have the stomach flu. But it's no big deal. It's probably just food poisoning." However, it could be a big deal. "Food poisoning" is another one of those terms we use to broadly describe any number of foodborne illnesses that are included under the umbrella of gastroenteritis. Those include bacteria and parasites. The culprits of many food outbreaks, such as E.coli, salmonella, and listeria, are examples of bacteria and parasites that create "stomach flu" symptoms. It's those bacteria and parasites that have the potential to cause the most harm. Eating tainted food can create gastroenteritis symptoms as early as one hour later, or at late as 10 days later. If you are showing signs of dehydration, cannot hold down liquids, have a fever or are experiencing severe abdominal pain, err on the side of caution and call a doctor. Picture Designed by Freepik
Four Facts That May Surprise You Food-borne Salmonella can be a real problem, but can be easily be avoided with proper food handling. Learn these five facts and tips for lowering your chance of getting a Salmonella infection. How do I know if I have a Salmonella infection? According to the CDC you should contact your doctor or healthcare provider if you have:
- Diarrhea and a fever over 101.5°F.
- Diarrhea for more than 3 days that is not improving.
- Bloody stools.
- Prolonged vomiting that prevents you from keeping liquids down.
- Signs of dehydration, such as:
- Making very little urine
- Dry mouth and throat
- Dizziness when standing up
- Salmonella from Food: You can get a Salmonella infection from a variety of foods. Salmonella can be found in many foods including beef, chicken, eggs, fruits, pork, sprouts, vegetables, and even processed foods, such as nut butters, frozen pot pies, chicken nuggets, and stuffed chicken entrees. When you eat a food that is contaminated with Salmonella, it can make you very sick (symptoms listed above). Contaminated foods usually look and smell normal, which is why it is important to know how to prevent Salmonella infection.
- Warm Summer Weather and Salmonella: Salmonella illness is more common in the summer. Warmer weather and unrefrigerated foods create ideal conditions for Salmonella to grow. Be sure to refrigerate or freeze perishables (foods likely to spoil or go bad quickly), prepared foods, and leftovers within 2 hours. Chill them within 1 hour if the temperature is 90°F or hotter.
- Symptoms can appear 6-48 Hours after being infected: Salmonella illness can be serious and is more dangerous for certain people. Symptoms of infection usually appear 6–48 hours after eating a contaminated food, but can take much longer. These symptoms include diarrhea, fever, and stomach cramps. In most cases, illness lasts 4–7 days and people recover without antibiotic treatment. Some people may have severe diarrhea and need to be hospitalized. Anyone can get a Salmonella infection, but some groups are more likely to develop a serious illness: older adults, children younger than five years of age.
- Weakened Immune Systems: People with immune systems weakened from medical conditions, such as diabetes, liver or kidney disease, and cancer or their treatment.
Holiday dinners with the family create some of the fondest memories. So consider the best possible food preparation techniques to avoid anyone getting sick. Follow these simple steps to correctly prepare your holiday meal.
- Cook Cook your food at the correct temperature. Many people think they can tell when food is “done” by checking its color and texture, there’s no way to be sure it’s safe without using a food thermometer.
- Clean Wash hands and surfaces often while preparing your holiday meal. Illness-causing bacteria can survive in many places around your kitchen, including your hands, utensils, cutting boards, and countertops.
- Chill Refrigerate all your food properly. Illness-causing bacteria can grow in many foods within two hours unless you refrigerate them. (During the summer heat, cut that time down to one hour.)
- Separate Don’t cross contaminate your food. Raw meat, poultry, seafood, and eggs can spread illness-causing bacteria to ready-to-eat foods—unless you keep them separate.
Most of us have been there. The unfortunate feeling in your stomach making you run in search of the nearest bathroom. The cause was most likely a delicious meal the previous day, and now you are terribly regretting that meal as you are confined to your bathroom, sick as a dog. There are simple steps you can take to decrease your risk of getting food poisoning, including:
- Don't leave your food out Food left out at room temperature for hours at a time - be it at home, or a doggy bag from the restaurant you just left, a family cookout, or even a restaurant buffet -- room temperature food is a prime source of food poisoning. The spores and toxins released by bacteria commonly found on food can flourish at this temperature.
- Stay clear of raw poultry Four out of five cases of food poisoning come from contaminated poultry. The best way to avoid food poisoning from chicken is to make avoid raw chicken. Make sure all chicken is cooked thoroughly you have good kitchen practices when cooking and handling chicken at home.
- Cook all Ground Meat well, before eating. A steak is an intact piece of meat. Any contamination will be on the surface. Cooking a steak well on the outside therefore reduces your chances of infection, even if it remains rare inside. But ground meat is different. Ground meat, such as hamburger, ground turkey, etc. instead of the bacteria staying on the outside, harmful bacteria is mixed into the meat. This applies to any form of burger, be it gourmet slider, meat pie, or anything that uses ground meat. Make sure any ground meat is cooked thoroughly before eating and consider having your burgers always prepared in as well-done to avoid bacteria.
- Wash your fruit, veggies, and nuts! A 2013 study by the CDC found that 46% of foodborne illnesses in the U.S are caused by fruits, vegetables and nuts. Leafy vegetables were found to cause the most illness, accounting for 22% of all cases in the study -- aided by the fact that bacteria, like E. coli, can live within the leaf tissue itself. Always wash your fruit, veggies and nuts before eating.
- Reheat your leftovers properly Bacteria can be found in leftovers, and unless heating them so they are piping hot, you may be at risk. For example, rice. Rice contain bacteria that are found in the rice patty fields. The bacteria are killed when the rice is cooked, but their spores stay alive and flourish if then left out at room temperature. If you eat rice without fully heating it, you could be at risk of that bacteria the second time around. Make sure to heat your leftovers until they steam.