Disease causing microbes can be transmitted through improperly processed, undercooked or inadequately refrigerated food. Although this GI infection is usually mild, it has the potential to be deadly.
Prevention of Food Poisoning
Bacteria are everywhere. The only food items that are sterile are those that have been heated under pressure and then sealed, such as canned goods. But once food is left in the open, at room temperature, microbes will come in contact with, and grow within the food.
Refrigeration and Food Poisoning
The types of microbes that cause disease are those that grow well at a temperature similar to that of the human body. The cooler the temperature is, the slower most microbes will grow. Refrigerating food slows the growth of microbes.
Thoroughly Cooking Food
Food must be cooked to temperatures of at least 160 degrees Fahrenheit in order to effectively kill microbes. Since bacteria are all around, cooled food will soon become recontaminated. But as long as the food is consumed shortly after being cooked it will seldom contain enough live microbes to cause infection.
Contaminated Raw Food
Fruits and vegetable that have been exposed to with contaminated water or handled by those with pathogenic bacteria on their hands can harbor disease-causing microbes. Be sure to wash all fresh food thoroughly before consuming.
Treatment of Food Poisoning
Dehydration from diarrhea and vomiting is the main health concern, in the less critical forms of food poisoning – cases that do not involve neurotoxins. In adults, the milder episodes of diarrhea and vomiting, lasting less than 24 hours, can usually run their course without medical care as long as the fluids being lost are replaced. For children, and in cases where you have questions about adult symptoms and treatment, it is always best to err on the side of caution and contact a medical professional.
Rehydration to Compensate for Diarrhea and Vomiting
If symptoms include vomiting and / or diarrhea, drink plenty of clear fluid to stay hydrated and avoid sugary drinks and caffeinated or alcoholic beverages. Sports drinks, although they have electrolytes, are also usually full of sugar. If replacing fluids with a sports drink, it is best to water it down to reduce the amount of sugar being consumed. Do not use sports drinks to rehydrate children. These are only for use with adults. Products made specifically for rehydration (such as Pedialyte), although expensive, are the best way to replace lost fluids in children.
Unless a health care provider says otherwise, it is best to avoid anti-diarrhea medications. If the infection is caused by an infectious agent, stopping the diarrhea could possibly make the infection last longer, since the body is not purging the infectious agent.
For more specifics on bacterial food poisoning, see the articles “Food Poisoning Causes and Symptoms” and “Shigella Food Poisoning”.
Bauman, R. (2004) Microbiology. Pearson Benjamin Cummings
eMedicine Health: Food Poisoning
Please note: The information in this article is not to be followed as medical advice, diagnosis ortreatment. Please consult with a physician or primary health practitioner for information regarding personal health and necessary treatments. This article was originally published in Suite101 online magazine.