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Many Foodborne Illnesses Due to Food Contamination in the Home

Poor personal hygiene can lead to food contamination that causes food poisoning

HEALTH GOES STRONG
ROBYN FLIPSE

If you've ever received a call from the school nurse to pick up your child due to a bellyache or crawled back under the covers yourself with a bad case of diarrhea, you are not alone. Thousands of Americans experience foodborne illnesses every day without ever knowing it was something they ate.  

What they also don't know is that food contamination, like charity, begins at home and is one of the primary causes of food poisoning.

Poor personal and kitchen hygiene is the number one way to spread the bacteria, viruses and parasites that cause foodborne illnesses.  A recent report from the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) estimates 1 in 6 Americans will get sick this year from the pathogenic organisms we consume with our food.

Now for the bad news. The U.S. is falling short of the goals set in 2010 to reduce the number of outbreaks caused by foodborne pathogens. Contaminated food is expected to cause an estimated 48 million illnesses, 128,000 hospitalizations, and 3000 deaths annually.

Here are some things you should know to help change those odds.

Symptoms of Food Poisoning

The first signs of a problem typically appear 2-4 hours after eating a contaminated food, but may start sooner or take longer depending on the amount of exposure, type of organism, and health of the recipient. They include:

  • Stomach cramps
  • Diarrhea
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Fever and chills
  • Headache
  • Muscle Weakness and fatigue

Top Sources of Contamination

  • Raw and undercooked meat, poultry, pork, seafood and eggs        
  • Unpasteurized milk, cheese and other dairy products
  • Contaminated water used for drinking or to wash fresh produce
  • Food handlers on farms, in factories, working in restaurants and food stores

Organisms Causing Foodborne Illnesses

Bacteria

  • Campylobacter – The second most common bacterial cause of diarrhea in the U.S.
  • Salmonella – The most common bacterial cause of diarrhea in the U.S.
  • Escherichia coli – Normally found in the intestines of people and animals, but some are toxic and spread by contact with the contaminated feces.
  • Listeria monocytogenes – Most dangerous for people with weakened immune systems.
  • Clostridium perfringens – Most often found in food held at improper temperatures.
  • Clostridium botulinum – Often associated with improperly home-canned foods.
  • Shigella – One of the leading causes of bacterial diarrhea worldwide.
  • Vibrio vulnificus – Most often due to raw seafood, especially oysters.

Virus

  • Novovirus – The leading viral cause of diarrhea in the U.S.

Parasite

  • Toxoplasma gondi – The leading cause of death attributed to foodborne illness.

Treatment for Food Poisoning

Mild cases can last 12-48 hours and be managed at home, but more serious cases may require hospitalization and can cause other health problems or even death.

  • Get stool tested for the type of organism and the presence of blood
  • Ask your physician if you should make any changes in your usual medications, such as diuretics
  • Check with your physician before taking over-the-counter anti-diarrhea medications
  • Drink plenty of fluids and eat high-moisture foods, such as soup and gelatin, to replace lost fluids
  • Monitor body temperature if fever present

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration and the U.S. Department of Agriculture maintain a joint list of recent food recalls and alerts that you can check online. You can also sign up to receive automatic alerts by phone or email.

Learn what to do with leftover food and why you shouldn't eat raw cookie dough to lower your risk for food poisoning. Diarrhea can also be a sign of food allergy.