How do you keep your food safe?
We have all been there are some point where you are feeling fine and all of a sudden, your stomach isn’t. Whether you need to throw up or run for the bathroom because you have the urgent need to have a bowel movement, the feeling is definitely unpleasant. Usually we can attribute our illness to something we ate. This begs the question, what can we do to make sure the food that we are eating is safe?
Illness caused by contaminated food affects us more than we realize. According to the Center for Disease Control (CDC), 1 in 6 (or 48 million) Americans become ill each year from eating contaminated food. Of this number, 128,000 require hospitalization and, of those, 3,000 people die. There are 250 foodborne diseases that are caused by bacteria, viruses and parasites. Another concern is toxins and chemicals contaminating food. Of the 250, the top five that cause food poisoning are norovirus, salmonella, clostridium perfringens, campylobacter and staphylococcus aureus. This typically aren’t as severe as some of the others, such as clostridium botulinum (botulism), listeria, E.coli, and vibrio, and not likely to require hospitalization. Typically, the disease-causing agent grows on food when is has been improperly prepared, cooked or stored. General symptoms of food poisoning include upset stomach, cramping, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea and fever. Symptoms typically appear a few hours or days after exposure and can last for a few hours to several days. Each infectious source is slightly different in regards to actual symptoms, onset and duration. The CDC has a great table that breaks it down for each disease at https://www.cdc.gov/foodsafety/symptoms.html.
Usually treatment involves not eating more food in order to decrease the chance of making vomiting and diarrhea worse. The key is to drink plenty of water to prevent dehydration. It is important to sip on the water in small amounts to reduce the likelihood of vomiting it back out. (Note: if your body will tolerate electrolyte replacement drinks—sports drinks—try drinking those to help replenish what your body is losing). When you are able to, gradually start increasing your diet. Start with bland, easy to digest foods and go from there. You should see a doctor if you have a high fever (>101.5°F), blood in your stool, vomiting to the point you can’t keep any liquids down (this can quickly lead to dehydration), diarrhea that lasts longer than three days or any symptoms of dehydration (decreased urine output, very dry mouth/throat and/or feel dizzy when standing up).
The majority of foodborne illnesses can be prevented with proper handling of food. Foodsafety.gov has a four-step process that they recommend in order to prevent organisms from growing on food and being ingested. The steps are clean, separate, cook and chill. Clean means literally everything from your hands to prep/cooking surfaces to food. This is due to the germs that cause foodborne illnesses can survive in a variety of places and easily be spread if things aren’t cleaned. This is why having clean surfaces is essential, especially during preparation when you have raw food on a surface and need to put cooked food there. For handwashing, it is important to do this before, during and after food preparation and before eating. Any utensils, cutting boards and countertops should be washed with hot, soapy water. Fresh fruits and vegetables should be rinsed under running water in order to remove any organisms/chemicals from their exterior. Separate is vital to avoid cross-contamination. Certain foods, such as raw meats, poultry, seafood and eggs, are more likely to spread germs to ready to eat foods if they aren’t kept separated. You can do this by using different cutting boards, plates and utensils for different foods. Also, when you are shopping at the store or placing food in your refrigerator, keep raw foods (and their juices) away from other foods. Cook means to thoroughly cook food to the correct temperature. This is important to ensure that the internal temperature of the food is high enough to kill the germs. The only way to accurately tell if your food is hot enough is to check it with a food thermometer. Foodsafety.gov has a chart that proper cooking temperature for a variety of foods at https://www.foodsafety.gov/keep/charts/mintemp.html. Note: you can not tell if food is thoroughly cook just by looking at it. Chill means to refrigerate food promptly. It is essential to refrigerate perishable food within two hours, unless the outdoor temperature is above 90°F, in which case you should refrigerate food within one hour. It is important to thaw any frozen food in the refrigerator, immersed in cold water or in a microwave. Don’t thaw food on the counter because organisms can easily grow and multiply in the areas of the food that reach room temperature first while the rest is still frozen. Foodsafety.gov has a chart that lists that length of time different foods can be left in the refrigerator (≤40°F) and freezer (≤0°F) at https://www.foodsafety.gov/keep/charts/storagetimes.html. In the range between 40°F – 140°F is when food is likely to be contaminated. This is why setting your refrigerator below 40°F and cooking your food until the internal temperature is at least 140°F is vital to you not becoming sick.
Foodborne illnesses can definitely be a vile experience. With the keys to prevention at your fingertips, you can decrease your chances of becoming sick! If you are concerned that you have food poisoning, please see your doctor.