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More than 40 million cases of food poisoning are estimated each year

Posted: 5:30 AM, Sep 03, 2018
Updated: 2018-09-03 10:37:54-04

This should be a cause of alarm with 13 documented multistate outbreaks of food poisoning.

Some of the outbreaks this year involved salmonella that was traced to dried coconut, chicken salad, an herbal supplement called kratom, raw sprouts and frozen shredded coconut.

Last year, there were eight multistate outbreaks, and in 2016, there were 14.

When it comes to food poisoning, 1 of 6 people will typically get sick each year.

Despite food safety measures, the threat of foodborne illness remains in meat and produce. More than 40 million cases and 3,000 deaths are estimated to result from food poisoning in this country each year, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

“Food poisoning is a reaction to a bad item that you have eaten. Usually you will have stomach upset, abdominal pain, cramps, and you will start to feel nausea, maybe even throw up, and have diarrhea,” Corpus Christi Medical center Dr. Kim Onufrak said. “Those are some signs and symptoms of food poisoning or food illness.”

The CDC notes that foods most commonly tied to outbreaks are chicken, pork and seeded vegetables. The 2018 outbreaks so far have included E. coli in romaine lettuce, causing 210 illnesses and five deaths; salmonella in raw turkey, with 90 illnesses; and cyclospora in fast food salads, with 286 illnesses.

“Because food poisoning can happen at anytime in the process, where the food is grown, where the food is processed, it could even happen when you make the food in your own home if you are not careful,” Onufrak said.

The best protection is to take proper precautions when purchasing foods. Most important: keep hot foods hot and cold foods cold.

“It’s generally not a good idea to leave food out on the counter, especially during the heat. You have heat, you have moisture, that is just the perfect condition for organisms to grow in your food,” Onufrak said.

Added precaution should be taken with the very young and elderly.

“It can affect everybody, but the most concern is in our older population, our younger population, those with chronic illnesses where their immune system is suppressed. They usually affect them the most.  They can become weak and severely dehydrated,” Onufrak said.

Food safety experts advise against rinsing raw meat, poultry and fish in the sink; it risks spreading noxious organisms on surfaces that will later come into contact with foods eaten raw.

However, produce can and should be washed even if you plan to peel or cook it unless it comes in a package labeled triple-rinsed or ready to use. Rinsing, again, risks cross-contamination.

Before preparing to cook, use soap and warm water to wash your hands, under your nails and up to your wrists.

Use a commercial cleanser or a solution of one teaspoon of bleach in a quart of water to clean kitchen surfaces. When prepping foods, use separate cutting boards and knives for raw animal foods and produce, even produce you plan to cook, or wash the equipment thoroughly with soapy water between the two.

Food poisoning, also called foodborne illness, is illness caused by eating contaminated food. Infectious organisms — including bacteria, viruses and parasites — or their toxins are the most common causes of food poisoning.

Infectious organisms or their toxins can contaminate food at any point of processing or production. Contamination can also occur at home if food is incorrectly handled or cooked.

Food poisoning symptoms, which can start within hours of eating contaminated food, often include nausea, vomiting or diarrhea. Most often, food poisoning is mild and resolves without treatment. But some people need to go to the hospital.

Symptoms:

Food poisoning symptoms vary with the source of contamination. Most types of food poisoning cause one or more of the following signs and symptoms:

• Nausea

• Vomiting

• Watery or bloody diarrhea

• Abdominal pain and cramps

• Fever

Signs and symptoms may start within hours after eating the contaminated food, or they may begin days or even weeks later. Sickness caused by food poisoning generally lasts from a few hours to several days.

When to see a doctor:

If you experience any of the following signs or symptoms, seek medical attention.

• Frequent episodes of vomiting and inability to keep liquids down

• Bloody vomit or stools

• Diarrhea for more than three days

• Extreme pain or severe abdominal cramping

• An oral temperature higher than 100.4 F (38 C)

• Signs or symptoms of dehydration — excessive thirst, dry mouth, little or no urination, severe weakness, dizziness, or lightheadedness

• Neurological symptoms such as blurry vision, muscle weakness and tingling in the arms

Risk factors:

Whether you become ill after eating contaminated food depends on the organism, the amount of exposure, your age and your health. High-risk groups include:

• Older adults. As you get older, your immune system may not respond as quickly and as effectively to infectious organisms as when you were younger.

• Pregnant women. During pregnancy, changes in metabolism and circulation may increase the risk of food poisoning. Your reaction may be more severe during pregnancy. Rarely, your baby may get sick, too.

• Infants and young children. Their immune systems haven’t fully developed.

• People with chronic disease. Having a chronic condition — such as diabetes, liver disease or AIDS — or receiving chemotherapy or radiation therapy for cancer reduces your immune response.

Causes:

Contamination of food can happen at any point of production: growing, harvesting, processing, storing, shipping or preparing. Cross-contamination — the transfer of harmful organisms from one surface to another — is often the cause. This is especially troublesome for raw, ready-to-eat foods, such as salads or other produce. Because these foods aren’t cooked, harmful organisms aren’t destroyed before eating and can cause food poisoning.

Complications:

The most common serious complication of food poisoning is dehydration — a severe loss of water and essential salts and minerals. If you’re a healthy adult and drink enough to replace fluids you lose from vomiting and diarrhea, dehydration shouldn’t be a problem.

Infants, older adults and people with suppressed immune systems or chronic illnesses may become severely dehydrated when they lose more fluids than they can replace. In that case, they may need to be hospitalized and receive intravenous fluids. In extreme cases, dehydration can be fatal.

Some types of food poisoning have potentially serious complications for certain people. These include:

Food poisoning is especially serious and potentially life-threatening for young children, pregnant women and their fetuses, older adults, and people with weakened immune systems. These individuals should take extra precautions by avoiding the following foods:

• Raw or rare meat and poultry

• Raw or undercooked fish or shellfish, including oysters, clams, mussels and scallops

• Raw or undercooked eggs or foods that may contain them, such as cookie dough and homemade ice cream

• Raw sprouts, such as alfalfa, bean, clover and radish sprouts

• Unpasteurized juices and ciders

• Unpasteurized milk and milk products

• Soft cheeses, such as feta, Brie and Camembert; blue-veined cheese; and unpasteurized cheese

• Refrigerated pates and meat spreads

• Uncooked hot dogs, luncheon meats and deli meats