Feeling a bit unsteady, feverish or sometimes nauseous just immediately after you took your favourite meal?
Scientists from the University of Alberta’s School of Public Health, Canada (U of A) believe that you may have joined the millions all over the world with a case of food poisoning.
Other researchers have also revealed that bacteria, viruses or parasites that cause food poisoning can exist at any stage of growing, packaging, shipping, storing or cooking food. This, according to them, calls for proper handling of food, such as putting it right back into a cooler after everybody dishes up.
They note that without such measures, bacteria can take over the table, leading to contamination and illness ranging from Staphylococcus aureus that passes in a day or two, to more serious infections like salmonella or E. coli.
“Food poisoning can be prevented 95 percent of the time by just doing the basics right,” said Lee Green, a public health expert and head of family medicine in the University of Alberta’s Faculty of Medicine & Dentistry.
Professor Norman Neumann, a food safety expert with the U of A’s School of Public Health, also said that more globalised markets means the impact of food-borne illness can be much more extensive, when and if food isn’t prepared or handled properly. He added that it’s important to be conscious of where contamination might come from.
Though meat is often blamed as the leading cause of food poisoning due to well-publicised outbreaks of E. coli infection, another prevalent cause is packaged fruit and vegetables, Neumann noted.
“It could be the water that’s used for irrigating the crops, when it’s contaminated by faecal sources from livestock or humans,” he said.
Grocery stores, Neumann stated, are less likely sources of food-borne illness than kitchens, because they have strict industry standards.
“Inspection practices have improved, and many stores have programs to actively recruit producers with safety programs on site to minimize contamination from water or pests. They’ll source food from reputable growers,” the professor explained.
To prevent food poisoning at home, Neumann suggests triple-washing of packaged fruits and vegetables with warm or hot water for at least, 30 seconds, even if they’re advertised as pre-rinsed.
It’s also smart to keep food refrigerated, though some microbes like Listeria can grow in cold temperature, he said, stressing that this why it is important to pay attention to expiry dates.
“Leaving food like packaged meat for too long in the fridge can still cause spoilage and growth of certain pathogens.
“Leftovers should be finished off within a few days of being prepared. For more perishable produce like lettuce, it’s still safe to eat just as it starts turning brown, but has to be consumed within a day or so.
“Once spoilage starts, it proceeds quickly,” added Neumann.
According to him, it is important to choose wisely when dining out because restaurants are often implicated in food-borne outbreaks.
“Go to restaurants you know are clean outside and inside, that show a high level of hygienic practices, and order food that is well cooked. Even a medium-rare steak should be cooked to an internal temperature of 63 C,” he suggested.
Kitchen tips to avoid food poisoning
In addition, Green and Neumann offer these kitchen rules to avoid food poisoning:
- Use a plastic—not wooden—cutting board for meat and fish and clean it in the dishwasher. Don’t use it to cut other foods.
- Don’t leave perishable food sitting at room temperature for more than 20 or 30 minutes.
- Use warm, soapy water to wash kitchen countertops.
- Use a scrub brush to wash dishes, because dishcloths and sponges breed bacteria. If you use dishcloths, change them daily. Sponges should be allowed to dry completely between uses.
- Be careful not to reuse utensils and plates that have been in contact with raw meat without washing them first.
- Rinse fruit and vegetables in water and then drain them thoroughly.
Treating food poisoning
According to Green, it can be very difficult to tell whether it is food poisoning or the flu that causes stomach sickness because they both share same symptoms, such as diarrhoea and vomiting. Because of this, she suggested that if symptoms persist after 24 hours, it is important to see a doctor.
“The symptoms may be the same, but it may need antibiotic treatment and we can’t tell what it is without proper testing.” Green said.
she added that more serious infections like E. coli and salmonella, which can live in food like undercooked or unrefrigerated meat, improperly prepared sushi and unwashed produce, can take one to three days to develop, and bring on bloody diarrhoea, vomiting and, in serious cases, low blood pressure, kidney damage, confusion and unconsciousness.
It’s not advisable to use over-the-counter diarrhoea medications or any prescriptions left over from vacations without knowing what type of food poisoning you have, Green said. “You can make yourself much sicker.”
While emphasising that there’s really no medical treatment for mild cases of food poisoning like staph infections, Green recommends resting and drink water to ward off dehydration.
“Once you’ve thrown it up and cleared it out of your body, it’s gone,” she said.