Plenty of people know the feeling all too well. Your stomach starts to murmur, abdominal muscles clench with intensity, and then it hits – food poisoning.
Potentially fatal and undeniably discomforting, foodborne illnesses are unpleasant, to say the least.
With symptoms ranging from bloating and minor discomfort to vomiting and diarrhea, food poisoning is tough to manage and hard to pinpoint.
But how does food cause so much trouble? How can you avoid food poisoning? And why does it affect individuals differently?
While it is colloquially referred to as “food poisoning”, we truthfully have over 250 different types of bacteria, viruses and parasites to blame for our sickness. Which is why many health professionals prefer using the term foodborne illness.
However you want to call it, these food poisoning bacteria and organisms can make their home in or on foods at every stage during their lifecycle, from growth to cooking.
And, while pretty much all foods CAN carry infectious organisms, certain ones are more likely to have harmful “bugs” than others.
Do I have Food Poisoning?
Foodborne pathogens have numerous symptoms. As well, incubation times vary for each different bacterium, virus or parasite.
So, while some symptoms can be noticed within hours, others can take days, and even in some cases, evolve over weeks after ingestion.
Due to this variability, it is often difficult to blame it on a specific meal or food.
Most common symptoms revolve around stomach issues, such as cramping, nausea, vomiting and diarrhea.
General tests for food poisoning include symptom diagnosis, stool cultures, blood tests and/or imaging.
For those of you looking for treatments – the good news is that most food poisoning cases take care of themselves anywhere between a few hours to a couple of days.
However, if you are running a high fever, have blood in your stool, or unable to keep food or liquids down, it is recommended to see a health care professional immediately.
Common Food Poisoning Bacteria
As mentioned before, there are roughly 250 different types of bacteria, viruses and parasites that can cause food poisoning. Given this, it would be difficult for us to list all of them in this blog post.
Luckily, the Centre for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has this handy Bad Bug Book PDF for download.
Nevertheless, here are the more common organisms that cause of foodborne illnesses.
Our first pathogen isn’t actually a bacterium at all. Norovirus is commonly referred to as the “stomach flu”, even though it is not related to the influenza virus.
With 25 different known strains, Norovirus is the number one cause of food-related illness.
However, due to its extremely contagious nature, Norovirus is more often than not contracted from sources other than foods.
Having a relatively short incubation period, symptoms can become noticeable anywhere between 12 to 48 hours and last up to one to three days.
Probably the most well-known food poisoning bacteria, salmonella, can be found in raw or contaminated meat, poultry, milk and egg yolks.
Symptoms include diarrhea, nausea, vomiting and abdominal pain. These issues usually present themselves within 12-72 hours and can last four to seven days.
Escherichia coli (E. coli)
Quite the large group of bacteria, most strains of E. coli are harmless to humans. However, when E. coli does cause sickness, symptoms often involved are diarrhea, UTIs, pneumonia and respiratory illnesses.
You can contract E. coli from undercooked ground beef, unpasteurized milk, sprouts, or any foods that may have come in contact with animal feces.
Symptoms are present one to eight days after consumption, with an expected five to seven day recovery.
Staphylococcus aureus (Staph)
Fairly common, the Staph bacterium can be found on about 25% of people and animals. However, Staph, while normally non-threating still can create toxins under the right circumstances.
Found in meats, salads, sauces and cream-filled pastries, this pathogen is particularly good at being passed through contact.
Staph food poisoning is characterized by vomiting, stomach cramps and diarrhea.
Clostridium botulinum (Botulism)
A rare, but serious illness, botulism is a toxin that attacks the nervous system and is caused by the food poisoning bacteria, Clostridium botulinum.
Symptoms advance over time but generally start with weakness of muscles of the face.
Spreading of this weakness can eventually reach the lungs where it will lead to difficulty breathing, and potentially death.
Most often found in commercial or home-canned foods, smoked or salted fish, honey and any foods kept at warm temperatures for extended periods of time.
How to Avoid Food Poisoning Bacteria
While it might be impossible to avoid food poisoning at restaurants and eateries, there are plenty of preventative measures one can do at home to reduce the chances of becoming ill.
1. Keep Raw Foods Separate
From the moment you shop until after cooking, you should do your best to keep raw foods separated from vegetables, fruits or any other food that is ready to eat without cooking.
This prevents transfer of bacteria from meats, poultry or fish. As well, it is good practice to use separate knives and cutting boards for meat and vegetables, respectively.
2. Safety Temperatures
As many of you already know, different types of meat require varying cooking temperatures to be considered safe. You can find a useful internal cooking temperature chart on the Government of Canada’s website here.
3. Refrigerators and Freezers
Commonly referred to as the Danger Zone, food poisoning causing pathogens have been shown to quickly multiply between the temperatures of 4◦C and 60◦C (40◦F and 140◦F).
Ensuring that perishable foods are frozen or refrigerated promptly after shopping or cooking reduces the chance of contamination.
By removing heat, you provide a bacteriostatic state where foodborne pathogen reproduction rates can be slowed or eliminated.
4. Wash and Clean Surfaces to Keep Food Poisoning Bacteria at Bay
Everything from your hands to sponges can harbour harmful bacteria. Washing your hands, utensils and food prep surfaces with hot water and soap reduces the possibility of contracting foodborne illnesses.
5. Worst Case? Throw it Out
If you become weary that any of your foods or drinks have become contaminated, the best thing to do is throw it away.
While it may seem like a waste, food poisoning can cause serious illness. It can also result in missed days of work or an inability to do daily tasks.
6. Antimicrobial Cooking Ware and Cleaning Items
Build up of bacteria doesn’t happen in moments. While it is important to clean your cooking wear in between uses, sometimes you miss a spot.
But before you throw out your entire kitchen in fear, know that there are several antimicrobial plastic cooking wares, such as cutting boards and spatulas, as well as cleaning items such as sponges, towels and gloves, that can help keep your kitchen items cleaner in between regular use.
Note: Antimicrobial additives are not incorporated into items to control illness-causing bacteria. The intent of the antimicrobial feature is to keep items cleaner and to prevent the growth of odor and stain causing bacteria.
Reporting Food Poisoning
While foodborne pathogens can result from human error when storing or cooking, this isn’t always the case. Individuals can help uncover pathogen sources by reporting sicknesses that have resulted from restaurants or packaged foods.
The Canadian Food Investigation Agency (CFIA) is a governmental body that helps protect Canadians from preventable food safety hazards. Reports made to the CFIA help locate outbreaks of illnesses, assess the extent of cases and result in actions to eliminate or minimize further potential risks.
These actions can include restaurant closures, food recalls, and/or fines for business malpractices.
So, help thy neighbour by reporting any sicknesses that you may have contracted from food substances.
It goes a long way in creating safer food practices and protecting our communities.
Our Antimicrobial Expertise
Thomson Research Associates (TRA) is a global leader in the field of antibacterial, antifungal and antimicrobial, and anti-dust mite treatments (see regulatory information), providing antimicrobial protection to finished products for over 60 years.
Our ultimate goal is to satisfy our clients’ specific needs through excellence in service, science, and support. Find out how we work with you through our scientific testing laboratory, highly-qualified technical and regulatory specialists.
We offer a selection of products, including options that are US EPA registered, BPR compliant and OEKO-TEX® listed. Please refer to product label or contact us directly for region-specific approved end-uses.
Furthermore, acknowledging our social responsibility, we have partnered with bluesign® in our joint initiative for the removal of harmful substances and practices from the manufacturing process.
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