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Food poisoning is an illness caused by eating or drinking food or water contaminated with viruses, bacteria, toxins, parasites, or chemicals. It’s different from Gastroenteritis (stomach flu) which is defined as an infection or irritation of the gastrointestinal tract, especially the stomach or intestines. It is a slightly more specific term that can describe a type of food poisoning.
Despite food safety measures, the threat of foodborne illness remains in meat and produce and some types of illness are on the rise.About 48 million people contract some form of food poisoning each year, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Salmonella remained the top cause of foodborne illness, The second most common cause of illness was Campylobacter. Campylobacter lives on live chickens and can taint meat during slaughter; it can also be found in raw, unpasteurized milk.
Chicken and ground beef top a list of “risky meat” published by the Center for Science in the Public Interest.
Researchers from this advocacy group examined data from foodborne illness outbreaks over a 12-year period and found between 1998 and 2010, meat and poultry products were linked to “at least 1,714 outbreaks involving 33,372 illnesses.”That estimate may only be the tip of the iceberg, the group said, as people may not seek medical attention for food poisoning and cases go unrecorded.
In April, the Environmental Working Group published an analysis of existing data on antibiotic-resistant bacteria contained in meat sold in supermarkets.
Eighty-one percent of ground chicken, 69% of pork chops, 55% of ground beef and 39% of chicken were found to contain the bacteria, the organization reported, citing data from a February Food and Drug Administration report. Antibiotic resistance reduces doctors’ options to treat you if you become ill.
Every year the Environmental Working Group publishes its “dirty dozen” fruits and vegetables. The advocacy group describes it as a consumer shoppers’ guide to determine which types of produce pose the highest threat of pesticides.Although pesticides are not a cause of foodborne illness, produce can be a source of food poisoning. In 2012, cantaloupes, spinach and spring mix salad and mangoes were linked to outbreaks.Improving food safety begins before the products ever reach the consumer, at the slaughterhouse and in the fields.
What Causes Food Poisining?
Viruses and bacteria
Viruses and bacteria’s are the most frequent cause of food poisoning. About 31 viral and bacterial pathogens are responsible for almost 9.4 million diagnosed food poisoning illnesses per year; about 39 million food poisoning cases are unspecified (undiagnosed).
The most common pathogens that cause food poisoning and the approximate number of people with food poisoning are:
- Clostridium perfringens
- Staphylococcus aureus
The most common pathogens that caused hospitalizations:
- Toxoplasma gondii
- Escherichia coli (E. coli)
Infectious agents comprise the largest category of food poisoning, but as seen from the above top categories, viral infections comprise the bulk of infected patients but are far less likely to cause hospitalizations and deaths than Salmonella bacteria.
There are many toxins that can cause food poisoning. Some are produced by bacteria on or in food and others are produced by plants and animals/fish or other organisms that are ingested. There are many plants and animals/fish that can be poisonous under certain conditions but they are encountered infrequently or under special conditions.
Some general toxin types, various toxins and their sources:
Bacteria Plants Animals/fish/other
Enterotoxins Mushroom toxins Scombroid toxin
Even though there are many bacterial, plant, and other toxins that can be ingested with food and water, they are usually limited to relatively small outbreaks.
Most parasites are ingested with contaminated food or water. Some of the parasites ingested include:
Certain chemicals are considered toxins that can cause food poisoning. While most do not enter into foods, some do and cause food poisoning. An example of such a chemical is mercury, found in drinking water and in fish such as tuna and marlin. Other examples of chemicals that can be toxic if enough contaminates food and water are pesticides, polychlorinated biphenyls, and lead.
The causes of food and water poisoning are numerous. This brief listing of causes should suffice as a framework to begin more detailed studies of food poisoning
What are the Symptoms and Signs?
The most common signs and symptoms of food poisoning are abdominal cramps, nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea. However, symptoms can get worse; blood in the stool and dehydration can occur.
Symptoms of food poisoning sometimes depend on which organ system the poison effects; for example, the neurological system may be altered by neurotoxins like pesticides and botulinum toxin. Other signs and symptoms may be fever, bloody diarrhea, abdominal pains, dehydration, bloating, and hepatic (liver) and renal problems. These symptoms often indicate a more severe disease.
When a group of individuals experiences similar symptoms after eating or drinking similar foods, food poisoning may be suspected.
Food Poisoning Home Remedies
Home care for mild to moderate bacterial and viral food poisoning is mainly preventing dehydration. Oral intake that approximates the volume of diarrhea by using a combination of water and electrolyte solutions like Oral Rehydration Solution is usually enough to avoid dehydration. Infrequent or rare causes of food poisoning should be treated by a doctor or a specialist; this should also be done in severe viral and bacterial food poisonings.
In the majority of individuals with mild to moderate symptoms of food poisoning (viral and bacterial), symptoms resolve in about 24 to 48 hours and no specific medical treatment is needed. However, if there are any signs of dehydration (decreased or no urination, dry mouth, increased thirst, dizziness and weakness), blood in the stools, fever, vomiting or diarrhea longer than 72 hours, medical care should be sought. If there is any reason to suspect that a more rare cause of food poisoning is causing symptoms described above, see a doctor.
Food Poisoning Treatment
Treatment of food poisoning is mainly done with fluids to avoid dehydration, especially in children and the elderly.
Some patients may benefit from medication to reduce nausea and vomiting. The use of medications like loperamide (Imodium) to treat diarrhea is often not advised as it may prolong symptoms or cause additional problems; patients are advised to check with their doctor before using the medication. Antibiotics are not used to treat viral and most bacterial causes of food poisoning but may be used in certain circumstances.
Severe bacterial infections and pregnant women with listeriosis will get antibiotics; some other pathogens such as certain parasites may be treated with antiparasitic medications. Other relatively rare causes of food poisoning may require special medications.
Food Poisoning Diagnosis
The diagnosis usually begins with the patient’s recent history of eating foods or exposure to contaminated water, travel history, and questions about friends or relatives with similar symptoms. The physical exam will focus on signs of dehydration while blood tests, if necessary, may be used to help rule out other problems. Stool samples may be useful to detect blood in the stool, culture for pathogens, microscopically examine for parasites and to detect certain toxins. In addition, there are immunological tests for some toxins (for example, Shiga toxin). Depending on the suspected cause, in rare cases biopsy samples may be taken. Definitive diagnosis depends on identification of the pathogen or toxic material found in the individual.
Although tests are available, in mild to moderate cases of viral and most bacterial food poisoning, tests are not usually done because of the expense and the likelihood that symptoms will resolve before the tests are completed.
Food Poisoning Prevention
Prevention of food poisoning is possible. The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) published ways to prevent food poisoning;
CLEAN: Wash your hands and surfaces often. Germs can survive in many places around your kitchen, including your hands, utensils, and cutting boards.
Rinse fresh fruits and vegetables under running water and always follow the rules of food safety .
SEPARATE: Don’t cross-contaminate. Even after you’ve cleaned your hands and surfaces thoroughly, raw meat, poultry, seafood, and eggs can still spread germs to ready-to-eat foods – unless you keep them separate.
COOK: Cook to the right temperature. While many people think they can tell when food is “done” simply by checking its color and texture, there’s no way to be sure it’s safe without following a few important but simple steps. Use a food thermometer to ensure that foods are cooked to a safe internal temperature: 145 F (62.77 C) for whole meats (allowing the meat to rest for 3 minutes before carving or consuming), 160 F (71.11 C) for ground meats, and 165 F (73.89 C) for all poultry.
CHILL: Keep your refrigerator below 40 F (4.44 C) and refrigerate foods properly. Germs can grow in many foods within 2 hours unless you refrigerate them. (During the summer heat, cut that time down to 1 hour.)
In conclusion, when travelling in foreign countries, it is best to eat only well-cooked foods and drink from cans or bottles that you open. Salads, ice, and fruit, unless known to be safe, should be avoided. Harmful bacteria can start growing at room temperature, so any leftovers should go into the fridge or freezer within two hours of cooking.Storage times for the fridge and freezer can vary depending on the food. Remember the first aid to give to people that are in need because most cases starts at night after dinner in public places.