Food poisoning is on everyone’s mind as people nationwide rush to throw romaine lettuce out of their refrigerators. For good reason, too, every year 48 million people get sick from foodborne illness. Of that number, 128,000 are hospitalized and 3,000 die.
Looking forward to the holidays, it is important to be cognizant of food poisoning.
The leading causes of food poisoning are infectious organisms and their toxins, such as: bacteria, viruses and parasites. For example, E. coli, a bacteria found on plants, is the most common cause of food poisoning cases, including the recent romaine lettuce incident.
The most common symptoms of food poisoning are vomiting, diarrhea, fever, stomach cramps and aches and pains. Symptoms can last from a few hours to a few days.
The holiday season makes spread of foodborne illness all the more likely due to the sharing of food. Donnica L. Moore, a physician educator and media commentator, notes a Thanksgiving dinner at her sister-in-law’s that went wrong.
“She made the first one [turkey], put it on the kitchen counter while the second one was cooking and then served both of them at the same time on the buffet, so everybody who ate the first turkey got violently ill and everyone who ate the second turkey was fine,” Moore said.
Since then, Moore has researched foodborne illnesses and became more cautious.
“As a result of my reading of these studies, for the first time ever after I served Thanksgiving dinner, I threw out the leftover turkey,” Moore said, noting the turkey was out too long for her to have confidence in its safety.
The good news is food poisoning is preventable.
“If you’re doing everything right at home, separating, tilling, washing your hands, keeping your face clean, then you shouldn’t develop foodborne illness,” Mary Kay Foster, director of the special pathogens unit at IU Health, said.
Preventing food poisoning starts with proper hygiene. When cooking, wash all cutting boards and utensils with hot water and soap. If working with raw meat, wash hands every time you touch it. After buying fruits and vegetables, wash the produce before putting them in the refrigerator.
In addition, clean out the refrigerator weekly. Moore notes a study aimed to determine the most germ-filled part of people’s homes.
“They found that the germiest place in our entire home, including the bathrooms, was actually the refrigerator. Because, if you think about it, most of us take the produce and put it directly in that drawer,” Moore said.
Above all, if food has been out for two hours or more, then play it safe and just throw it away.
If you get food poisoning, all is not lost.
“The good news is that the majority of people can ride it out at home and just feel miserable for 48 hours,” Moore said.
In the case of food poisoning, the best option is to stay well hydrated to replace the fluids you lose through vomit and diarrhea and let the disease take its course.
However, there are times when it’s best to see a doctor. If the illness does not go away within a few days, you are unable to keep food and drink down, symptoms of dehydration like dry mouth and decreased urination occur or if you are just unsure, see a doctor. Children, the elderly, pregnant women, people with pre-existing conditions and those with weak immune systems are most vulnerable to food poisoning.
Contact staff writer Ben Lashar at 317-762-7848. Follow him on Twitter @BenjaminLashar