Food Poisoning: What You Need to Know

When you think of food and health, food safety is probably not one of the first, or last, things that come to mind. However, everyone has either had food poisoning or can tell you a few stories about friends or family members that have had it.  Food poisoning strikes 1 out of 6 Americans per year and causes 3,000 deaths each year in the United States. According to the Center of Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), handing food safely could prevent 85 percent of all foodborne illnesses. So what causes food poisoning, who is at the risk of getting sick, and how do you protect yourself and others

What pathogens are getting people sick?

There are eight main pathogens that account for the majority of food poisoning outbreaks:

  • Salmonella – eggs, poultry, meat, unpasteurized milk and juice
  • Listeria – ready-to-eat deli meats, unpasteurized milk and soft cheeses
  • Clostridium perfringens – meats, poultry, gravy, dried or precooked foods
  • Campylobacter – raw and undercooked poultry, unpasteurized milk, contaminated water
  • Staphylococcus aureus – improperly refrigerated meats, potato and egg salads, and cream pastries
  • Coli – undercooked beef, unpasteurized milk and juice, contaminated water and produce
  • Toxoplasma gondii – undercooked meats (especially pork, lamb, and venison), contaminated water, or cross contamination from soil (like your garden) or cat feces.
  • Norovirus – contaminated water, produce, leftovers, and shellfish

What are the symptoms?

Some symptoms of food poisoning start within 1 hour after eating, but others can take up to 10 days! Symptoms can fluctuate from nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea to double visions, headaches, and fever. Use this guide (Symptoms of Food Poisoning) from foodSafety.gov to see a summary of pathogens, their symptoms, and onset times.

Who is at the highest risk?

Everyone has the potential to get food poisoning, however some individuals at a much high risk. This includes:

  • Older adults (anyone over the age of 65)
  • Infants and young children (under the age of 5)
  • Pregnant women
  • People with weakened immune systems due to:
    • Some types of cancers and their treatments
    • HIV/AIDS
    • Chronic illness such as diabetes and kidney disease

Resources: The More You Know

Phone Apps:

  • Is My Food Safe? by the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics- free
  • FoodKeeper by the USDA- free

Webpages:

  • FoodSafety.gov – includes up-to-date information on food recalls and you can report food poisoning
  • CDC.gov – offers educational tools, resources for kids, guides, and more.

Check out some of my older post to learn more about how to preventing food borne illnesses:

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