Equip yourself with the smarts to keep your family’s dinner table safe from germs and toxins that can cause food poisoning.
Food poisoning is all too common
Although it does make the stomach jump a bit, it tends to be something than too many people do not think about beyond “I’m glad it wasn’t me.” If you’ve ever had food poisoning, you remember the occasion. But unless you had to go to the hospital, you may put the episode down as a learning experience and move on: You ate something that wasn’t good, you got sick, end of story. But, with approximately 128,000 hospitalizations, and 3,000 deaths each year, food poisoning is a much larger national issue than many give it credit for.
Food poisoning — also known as foodborne illness, foodborne infection or foodborne disease — results from consuming food that has been contaminated with bacteria, viruses, parasites or toxins. Sometimes it results from contamination that occurred before the food was prepared, and sometimes it occurs when handlers do not store or prepare food correctly.
The foods most at risk of contamination are raw animal products, but fruits or vegetables like melon or lettuce can become tainted as well, whether in the field, in the bag, or at any processing step in between. Raw meats can also cross-contaminate other foods they or their fluids come into contact with in the kitchen.
When a food recall is issued, it will typically contain product information including identifying marks on the label (if any) such as expiration date or lot code. And of course, if the product you have at home matches the details on the label, do not open it or eat it. If you think it made you sick, save the label and any remaining portions, and tell your local department of health. You should also alert the health department if you become sick from what you ate at a restaurant or a large event.
To see the most recent recalls and alerts from the USDA and the Food and Drug Administration, visit Foodsafety.gov.
4 keys to avoiding food poisoning: Check your steps
Clean. Make sure that your hands are thoroughly washed for at least 20 seconds before and after handling food. Wash surfaces and utensils every time you use them. Wash fruits and vegetables, but do not wash meat, poultry or eggs, as this could spread bacteria if their juices spill onto the sink and countertop.
Separate. Keep food that could carry bacteria away from other foods. (Like raw chicken and vegetables). This includes using separate cutting boards — one for meat, poultry and seafood, and a different one for produce. Keep your eggs, seafood, meat and poultry in a different part of the refrigerator than other foods.
Cook. When cooking, use a food thermometer to ensure that the food is cooked to the proper temperature. The “danger zone” in which bacteria multiply quickest is between 40 degrees and 140 degrees Fahrenheit.
Chill. Always chill perishables right after bringing them home from the store. Store them — and leftovers — in the fridge, which should be kept between 32 degrees and 40 degrees Fahrenheit. Do not thaw foods on the countertop. Instead, thaw them in the refrigerator, by microwave, by submerging in cold water, or by simply cooking without thawing.
Symptoms of food poisoning and when to seek medical attention
The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) explains that because food poisoning symptoms often seem like the flu symptoms, many people can mis-diagnose themselves and cause them to not get the proper treatment.
If you are experiencing symptoms such as nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, abdominal cramping, and fever for more than 24 hours you should see a health care provider right away. People in the following at-risk groups should also seek immediate medical attention if food poisoning is suspected:
- Infants, children, pregnant women, and older adults;
- People whose immune systems are weakened, such as people living with HIV/AIDS, diabetes, cancer, kidney disease, or a transplant.
The USDA notes that, “Symptoms of food poisoning can appear anywhere between four hours and one week after ingesting a contaminated food item and can persist for as short a time as 24 hours or as long as a week.”
Need to see a provider today? Providence Express Care offers same-day appointments and extended hours for many common conditions.
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This information is not intended as a substitute for professional medical care. Always follow your health care professional's instructions.