An imprecise term indicating an illness resulting from the ingestion
of foods containing poisonous substances. True food poisoning includes
mushroom poisoning; shellfish poisoning; poisoning resulting from
foods contaminated with poisonous insecticides or toxic substances
such as lead or mercury, and milk sickness (due to milk from cows
that have fed on certain poisonous plants). Also, occasionally poisoning
resulting from eating foods that have undergone putrefaction or decomposition
or poisoning from bacteria. The actual number of food poisoning cases
is undetermined (guessed at 2 million per year) because
most people mistake the symptoms of food poisoning for intestinal
Pathogenic and toxigenic organisms (those that can cause disease
and those that can produce toxins), are silent killers because neither
the taste, odor, nor appearance of the food indicates their existence.
All types of bacteria can potentially become toxigenic.
The most common bacteria causing food poisoning, Salmonella, are
part of the natural intestinal flora of animals. They are easily transmitted
to others through human food supplies, knives, table tops, cracked
eggs, and the hands of food preparers.
Most salmonella poisoning is contracted from contaminated foods;
chicken, eggs, beef, and pork products. People who eat raw or poorly
cooked meats are at greater risk of salmonella poisoning.
Cooks who first handle raw hamburger and then other foods will endanger
others; those cooks who lick their hands or fingers after handling
raw meat put themselves at risk for salmonella poisoning. Those taking
antibiotics are also at greater risk for salmonella poisoning. Even
though antibiotics can effectively treat bacterial infections, they
can also promote infection by destroying good, competing bacteria
and permitting the growth of bacteria that are antibiotic resistant.
Partly cooked eggs, ice cream, hollandaise sauce, eggnog, and Caesar
salad dressing are not cooked well enough to kill salmonella bacteria.
Certain strains of bacteria will not be destroyed in eggs that are
poached or in eggs made over easy or sunny side up, etc. Salmonella
has been reported in raw clams, oysters, and sushi. Also, sushi (raw
fish) has been contaminated with a worm-like parasite called anisakis.
This parasite appears as a tightly coiled, clear worm, about 1/2
to 3/4 inch in length. It commonly embeds itself in herring
and other fish. A sushi chef can spot this parasite easily, so illness
from sushi is a rare occurrence.
Lesteria monocytogenes is a bacterium found in packaged dairy products
and a brand of chocolate dipped ice cream bars called Polar Bars.
Fortunately, these products were recalled in time, and no illnesses
Staphyloccocus aureus, the second most frequent cause off food-borne
illnesses, is commonly found in the nose and throat, sneezing and
coughing on food can contaminate it. Before you eat from a salad bar,
make sure that it is protected and clean.
One of the problems with eating in some restaurants and food service
companies is that they often prepare large servings of turkey, chicken,
beef, and many other foods that have been left out at room temperature.
Bacteria called Clostridium botulinum, sometimes referred to as the
"cafeteria germ", and salmonella often breed in food that has not
been kept cold or hot. The bacterium Clostridium botulinum commonly
inhabits the soil in the form of harmless spores. It is easily destroyed
when frozen or heated properly. Of the various types of food poisoning,
botulism is the most severe and affects the central nervous system.
In botulism, toxins produced by the organism block the transmission
of impulses from the nerve to the muscles.
Heating foods to 176 degrees F. for 20 minutes
will destroy the spores. Beware of bulging cans (not dented), cracked
jars, or loose lids on products. These can indicate botulism. This
toxin has been found in asparagus, beets, corn, stuffed eggplant,
smoked and salted fish, green beans, ham, lobster, luncheon meats,
mushrooms, peppers, sausage, soups, spinach, and tuna.
A microorganism called Complobacter jejuni has recently been implicated
in human illness, although it has been known to cause illness in cattle
for some time.
Four other types of food poisoning include staphylococcal, campylobacteriosis,
perfringens, and giardiasis. Staphylococcus produce a toxin that often
contaminates meat, poultry, egg products, tuna, potato and macaroni
salads, and cream-filled pastries.
Campylobacteria are found in poultry, cattle and sheep, symptoms
appear 2-5 days after eating. Symptoms last up to 10
days. Perfringens are bacteria that survive heat and multiply when
meat and meat products cool and when they are stored. This type of
food poisoning can be very serious in the elderly.
Giardiasis is associated with consumption of contaminated water.
It can also be transmitted to raw foods that have grown in contaminated
water. Cool, moist environments are conducive to the growth of this
type of microorganism. Recently a number of people in the Seattle
area came down with a severe illness consisting mainly of diarrhea
and bleeding from the colon. The bacteria causing this outbreak were
found to be E. coli, a common type of bacteria present
in the large intestine of all humans. But the particular type of E.
coli that was responsible for this series of illnesses was
a kind that had never been found in the U.S. before.
In California a recent epidemic involving about 250 people,
resulting in 85 deaths was traced to the bacteria lesteria
monocytogenes, which had contaminated a certain brand of cheese. Many
who died were pregnant women and young children.
People tend not to associate their illness with food because it takes
3-5 days for these bacteria to produce symptoms.
Nausea, vomiting diarrhea, sometimes
fever, and abdominal cramps lasting from
a few hours to a few days. If poisoning from a public restaurant is
suspected, notify the local health department right away so that others
might be saved from possible food poisoning. Some types of food poisoning,
such as botulism, are more serious, especially for the elderly and
children. As many as 9000 deaths occur every year from all types of
food poisoning. Many cases of food poisoning lead to chronic health
disorders, such as reactive arthritis.
Symptoms of Salmonella poisoning can range from mild abdominal pain
to severe diarrhea, and dehydration to
typhoid-like fever. Outbreaks of salmonella poisoning
occur primarily in warmer months. This poisoning can weaken the immune
system and cause kidney and cardiovascular damage and arthritis.
Symptoms of Staphyloccocus aureus include: diarrhea,
nausea, and vomiting within 2 to 6 hours
after eating. These responses occur because the body is trying to
rid itself of the toxins produced in the presence of the bacterium.
For this reason it may be wise to induce vomiting. If the symptoms
are severe or prolonged, see the doctor.
Those suffering from botulism may feel extremely weak and have double
vision, droopy eyelids, and trouble swallowing in the early stages.
The symptoms typically appear 12 to 48 hours
after ingestion. Paralysis and death may result in severe cases.
Because Complobacter jejuni are present in the intestinal tracts
of healthy cattle, turkeys, chickens, and sheep, they are spread to
all parts of the meat during the slaughtering process. Fortunately,
heat destroys them. Giardiasis poisoning symptoms generally occur
within 1 to 3 weeks and include diarrhea,
constipation, abdominal pain, flatulence,
loss of appetite, nausea, and vomiting.
See the doctor! Diagnosis and treatment will relieve symptoms in most
cases. If vomiting occurs, keep enough of the vomitus for analysis.
Garlic capsules, 2 capsules with meals, a powerful detoxifier. Potassium,
99 mg. per day, is needed for the proper balance of sodium
and potassium. Acidophilus, twice daily, replaces essential intestinal
bacteria. Fiber, twice per day, oat bran is recommended. Kelp, 5
tablets per day, contains needed minerals. L-cysteine,
500 mg. per day (all of the following are nutrients essential
in immune function). L-methionine, 500 mg.
per day. Selenium, 200 mg. per day. Superoxide dismutase
(SOD), 5,000 mg. per day. Vitamin C plus
bioflavonoids, 8,000 mg. per day. Vitamin E,
600 IU per day.
Here are some fast, easy rules to help prevent food poisoning at
home and while eating out:
- Keep food either hot or cold. Foods left at room temperature encourage
rapid bacteria growth.
- Keep perishable products refrigerated.
- Refrigerate leftovers as soon as possible.
- Cook meat, poultry, and seafood thoroughly. east should be cooked
at a temperature of at least 165 degrees F.
- Wash your hands before handling food. Harmful bacteria are transmitted
after diapering a baby or blowing your nose.
- Keep two cutting boards: one for cutting meat and the other for
vegetables. This will prevent the transfer of bacteria from meat
to vegetables. Wash your cutting boards with a bleach-water solution
at least 3 times every week.
- Go home directly after grocery shopping, especially in warm weather.
Store foods immediately according to labels.
- Clean any utensil that has come in contact with raw hamburger,
poultry, or seafood. Utensils that have been used with raw meats
should not be used to mix other foods until they have been disinfected.
These measures will prevent the spread off harmful bacteria.
- Wash out lunch boxes and thermoses after every use.
- Throw away cans having loose lids and those that are bulging,
rusted, bent, or sticky. Beware of cracks in jars and leaks in paper
- Reheat food thoroughly and bring to a rapid boil, if possible.
- Set refrigerator temperature at 40 degrees F. or
below. Freezers should be set at 0 degrees F. or below.
- Wash kitchen towels and sponges with a bleach-water solution daily.
- Picnic foods, such as mayonnaise, salad dressing, and milk products,
can be trouble if they are left in the sun or at room temperature.
- Avoid creamed foods, foods containing mayonnaise, and soups that
are not kept at near boiling temperatures at salad bars. Do not
eat at salad bars that do not look fresh and clean or have a protective
- Giving honey to a newborn can produce a toxin inside the infant's
immature intestine and can lead to infant botulism. Honey is safe
for babies after age one.
- Mold commonly grows on spoiled food products. The following foods
should be avoided if mold is growing on them: bacon, bread, cured
luncheon meats, soft dairy products, flour, canned ham, hot dogs,
dried nuts, peanut butter, roast poultry, soft vegetables, and whole
grains. Also avoid any other cooked or raw foods covered with mold.
- Thaw all foods, especially meats and poultry, in the refrigerator.
- Do not stuff a chicken or turkey with dressing until you are ready
to put it in the oven. The dressing can contaminate the poultry.
Cook and/or store the dressing separately, and then place it in
the poultry immediately before putting the turkey in the oven.
Check with the doctor if food poisoning is suspected.