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.