food poisoningFood poisoning occurs when a person takes in food that is contaminated by bacteria, parasites or virus or when you eat foods that are not already prepared or foods that are not handled well during the process of preparing them. It is an acute illness, usually sudden, brought about by eating contaminated or poisonous food by any causal agent. For instance, foods commonly affected by staphylococci are meat pies, sliced meats, pies with gravy, synthetic cream, and ice-cream.

Majority of people carry staphylococci in their noses, throats and are present in nasal secretions following a cold. Staphylococci are also present in skin wounds and infections and find their way into foods via the hands of an infected food handler. Hence, the importance of keeping all wounds and skin conditions covered. Although staphylococci are themselves readily destroyed by thorough cooking or re-heating, the toxin which they produce is often much more heat- resistant and may need a higher temperature or longer cooking time for its complete destruction.

Another instance is food poisoning caused from Clostridium botulinum (botulism) is extremely serious. This produces a life-threatening toxin which is the most virurent poison known. Foods most commonly affected by clostridium botulinum are inadequately processed canned meat, vegetables and fish.

FOOD POISONING SYMPTOMS

The food poisoning symptoms include the following nausea, vomiting, stomach ache, diarrhea, fever. The elderly people, babies, pregnant women and people with immune complications are more prone to showing severe symptoms of food poisoning.

FOOD POISONING CAUSES

The main causes of food poisoning are the following:

Bacteria

food poisoningThese are responsible for more than two-thirds of food poisoning episodes. The important germs in this category are Salmonella, Staphylococci Clostridia and Bacillus Cereus. The food we eat, no matter how hygienically prepared, almost always contains a few bacteria. However, a small number does not cause illness. At a rough estimate, about one million bacteria must be present before a healthy adult will come to harm. However, in case of children under one year, or in case of old or sick persons, only one lakh bacteria bring on illness.

Viruses

These are the simplest living organisms containing only genetic material. Viruses require living tissues for their growth and multiplication, therefore will not multiply in food. However, food can serve as a transport vehicle for viruses. Since viruses are destroyed by temperatures achieved in normal cooking, food poisoning by viruses occurs largely in food which has not been cooked or has been handled after cooking by a person who is a carrier of viruses.

Chemicals

Common chemicals which produce food poisoning are pesticides, detergents, paraffin, food additives, sterilizing agents and packing materials. Food poisoning from chemicals is mostly caused by carelessness in the home or in an industrial establishment. Try to avoid buying attractive and highly-coloured foods as these contain several additives which may be harmful. Carefully read the manufacturer’s information/instructions regarding contents, use and storage. Avoid the use of packaged wheat-flour. Instead, buy whole-wheat from the market, clean it with plenty of water, dry it and have it ground at a floor mill.

Poisonous plants – toadstools, red kidney beans (insufficiently cooked)

Certain naturally poisonous plants, when accidentally mixed in with vegetables, cause food posioning. Among these are toadstool (confused with mushroom), hemlock, black nightshade, rhubarb leaves and undercooked red kidney beans. The toxins of most plants are unaffected by cooking.

Food poisoning can also result from Metals such as lead pipes, and copper pans.

DURATION OF FOOD POISONING

Some instances of food poisoning are not dangerous, so the effect can stop within a short time. Most cases of food poisoning are mild and require no medical attention. You spend a day or two resting and feeling sort of miserable. After that you feel better. If you’re lucky, you’ll never experience food poisoning worse than this.

Some other symptoms such as high level of dizziness, disorientation, experiencing visual disturbances, increased breathing heart rate, encountering problem during speaking and paralyzed muscles, however, show that the person had a severe poisoning to their food and must be treated in the shortest time. If not treated, it can result in other problems or even death. You should know how to recognize and respond to severe food poisoning because it can be deadly.

As the recent tomato scare shows, food poisoning can lead to serious medical problems requiring hospitalization. More than 300,000 people spend time in the hospital because of food poisoning every year.

PREVENTING FOOD POISONING

It’s simple to prevent mild cases of food poisoning. Do follow these procedures:

Good washing habits

food poisoningThere are two washing habits you should remember when it comes to handling foods. The first is to wash your hands well and often. Wash before you begin. Wash again after each time you handle meat. The second rule is to wash produce thoroughly before preparing, especially if you are going to eat it raw. Germs cling to the skin surface and persist in hair follicles, in skin pores, or in crevices and lesions caused by breaks in the skin. The hands should be washed with plenty of soap and water, preferably warm. A disinfectant solution may also be used, as an added precaution. Nails should be short, unchipped and, preferably, unvarnished (if varnished, the varnish should not be chipped.) Also, wet hands contain more bacteria than dry hands. Use clean towels to dry them. If you can afford an electrically-operated hand drier, that’s even more hygienic. The food handler should remove all jewelry from his/her hands. If any cut, wound or boil is present on the hand, a colored waterproof dressing should be applied over it so that if it accidentally falls off into the food, it can be easily noticed and the food discarded. It is very important to wash hands after a trip to the toilet, blowing your nose, handling raw meat, poultry or contaminated food, etc. The food handler should not smoke in the kitchen and should sneeze or cough into a tissue which should then be discarded. Cover hair under a cap or net. Clothes should be clean and should cover exposed areas of the body as far as possible. Long sleeves should be rolled up or securely fastened at the wrists so that cuffs do not dip into the food. Always wear full-length apron. During illness, the nasal and throat carriage of bacteria is increased, so sick persons and those who have suffered from food poisoning, diarrhoea and vomiting in the recent past (even if they are apparently healthy now) should not be allowed into the kitchen.

Selection

Common sources of food poisoning are meats, produce, and canned foods. Most meat and produce related food poisoning can be avoided through proper cooking, washing, and handling. You should also avoid foods that have an FDA warning out regarding their safety. When it comes to choosing canned foods, pass over those that are dented. Dents can lead to contamination of the food within.

Cross contamination

Whenever you are working with raw meats, take care to avoid cross-contamination. Wash your hands after touching raw meat and before you touch other foods. Also, be careful to put cooked foods onto a clean plate rather than one that held raw meat.

Temperature

Keeping foods at the proper temperature-especially dairy, eggs, and meats-is very important. To properly store foods, keep your freezer set to zero degrees Fahrenheit and your fridge set 37 to 40 degrees. Whenever you are cooking meat, make sure that you cook ground beef to 160 degrees, chicken to 180 degrees, and pork to 160 degrees. When thawing frozen foods, don’t try to rush the process, simply take the time and allow the food to thaw in the fridge. Keep cooked foods, raw meat, and any foods that require refrigeration out of the danger zone as this is the temperature range between 41 degrees and 140 degrees. Bacteria breed quickly at these temperatures. Thaw all frozen foods completely before cooking. If you do not, the ice crystals at the center of the food prevent the temperature that reaches the center at the time of cooking from being sufficiently high to kill the bacteria there; at the same time, this temperature level will be optimum for bacterial multiplication. Food should not be repeatedly frozen, thawed and re-frozen. Each time it thaws, it reaches a temperature that’s conducive to bacterial growth. Cook food thoroughly at one go. Never do it in two stages – bacteria remain alive in partially-cooked foods and on cooling, they multiply and survive right through the next phase of partial cooking. Never keep the food warm (as in casseroles) because these provide the optimum temperature for bacterial multiplication. Never re-heat the food more than once. Again, bacteria get a chance to multiply when the food has gone from ‘hot’ to ‘warm’. If re-heating is absolutely necessary, the food should be covered and cooled very rapidly after cooking and stored in the refrigerator until it is ready to be re- heated. To speed cooling, divide up the food into several containers or cut up big chunks into smaller pieces.

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