Food Bugs

Foodborne illness- or food poisoning- is at the least no fun and at the extreme deadly.


Foodborne illness is defined as any sickness from food or drink contaminated with a microbe-bacteria, toxin, virus or parasite.

When I was taking classes to become a Registered Dietitian we were required to take a Food Safety course. Not your typical food handlers license that takes a few hours online, this class was a full semester, with a rigorous exam at the end; it covered everything from how egg whites chemically react when they are beaten, to all too graphic details on the ways you can get sick from contaminated food.

Alas, I admit, I remember only bits and pieces of this course- including the food borne illness bit. I know this because I recently had an uncomfortable case of food poisoning in which I spent the night on the bathroom floor. Was this from a food I ate? If so, which one and why? Was I contagious and need to stay home? I was shocked about how little I recalled when I was in this horrible scenario myself.

After diagnosing that seven family members I had spent the weekend with were also sick that same night, with the same symptoms, and none lasting more than 24 hours, made food a highly likely culprit. Upon some self-study, however the bug in question and the source remained unknown.

Until… my fiance and two other family members had the same experience a week later! This couldn’t just be coincidence could it? Did they eat the same foods that made us sick? I clearly needed to go back to the books…

Here are a few of the bullet-points I found on foodborne illness.

May you find them useful for your own understanding of this awful illness, save you ever end up as a victim to a food bug.

  • One out of six of all Americans will get sick with a foodborne illness every year. (The majority resolve on their own; in rare instances hospitalization is necessary).
  • There are hundreds of organisms that you might ingest via food or drink that can cause you discomfort. Symptoms may be mild to severe and include:
    • Stomach cramps and pain
    • Vomiting
    • Diarrhea
    • Headaches
    • Chills
    • Fever
    • Aching body
  • Any food or drink might possibly be the carrier of a microbe- it all depends on proper handling and serving of the food. However, raw foods are more likely to carry a harmful organism than those that have been properly cooked.
  • It is likely that you have ingested a harmful bug, or several, throughout your life and never knew it. Your body will first try to fight these bad microbes with saliva and the acid in your stomach before it has to resort to expelling them by vomit or diarrhea.
  • A foodborne illness does not necessarily come from the last thing you ate; it can take anywhere from a few hours to several days for a bug to cause symptoms.
  • Symptoms typically last from one day to a week, but the bug in question can stick around in your gut for much longer without you experiencing any discomfort.
  • You CAN spread bacteria and virus that cause illness to other people from direct or indirect contact … so wash your hands and anything that might be contaminated!

I have theorized that my family members and I had gastroenteritis, also known as norovirus or stomach flu. This virus is most active between October and April. It has a quick onset and a quick duration (for most), as was our experience.

Prevention


Prevent the spread of foodborne illness through proper food handling in your own kitchen:

  • Wash your hands!
  • Heat and cook food to proper temperatures.
  • Do not leave food at room temperature for more than four hours.
  • Avoid cross contamination of raw meats, fish and poultry with other foods by cleaning cooking surfaces and using separate cutting boards.
  • Purchase food from a reputable source.

The Fall-Out


If someone you live with experiences a food poisoning episode, treat it like a cold; don’t share glassware or utensils, wash hands, cover mouth when coughing, etc., to prevent the spread of the harmful microbe.

If you have an episode, as soon as your body allows:

  1. Re-hydrate and replace nutrients lost with all the fluids expelled from your digestive tract. Water, tea and fluids containing electrolytes such as a vitamin water, or a supplement containing potassium, sodium, and calcium added to water (I like Nuun tabs that dissolve in water). Gatorades and sports drinks are best watered down to avoid a large sugar rush to an empty stomach.
  2. Restore calories by consuming mild foods, as tolerable. Try crackers, breads, rice, soups, bananas, protein shakes, yogurt…or really anything that sounds good to the person!
  3. And of course sleep is good for recovery, so let yourself rest.

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Resources:

U.S. Food and Drug Administration

Mayo Clinic

Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics

Health Research Funding

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