Foods may look, smell and even taste fine—and still harbor bacteria that can cause food poisoning. In fact, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) every year, food-related illnesses are the cause of 5,700 deaths, 371,000 hospitalizations and 87 million cases of illness in the United States alone.
The most common food food-borne illnesses and their causes are:
- Salmonella: foods typically affected include raw or contaminated meat, poultry, milk or egg yolks
- Campylobacter: meat and poultry
- Shigella: raw, ready-to-eat produce
- Cryptosporidium: water, fruit and salad vegetables
- E. coli 0157: contaminated meat-spread mainly by undercooked ground beef
- Yersinia: raw or undercooked pork products
- Listeria: hot dogs, luncheon meats, unpasteurized milk and cheeses, and unwashed raw produce
- Vibrio: oysters and other shellfish
Common Symptoms of Food Poisoning:
If you’ve eaten a contaminated food, symptoms may start within hours or hold off until days later. Symptoms, which generally last from one to 10 days, can include:
- Stomach Cramping
- Loss of appetite
Symptoms from food poisoning can start within hours or may not show up until days later. For most healthy people, food poisoning will go away on its own. However, it can be very dangerous for younger children, pregnant women, elderly, and those with weakened immune systems.
Tips for Preventing Food Poisoning, and What to do If You Get a Food-Borne Illness
- Avoid cross-contamination: This occurs when you use the same knife, counter, or cutting board to cut raw chicken, then raw vegetables for a salad, or fresh fruits for dessert, or a loaf of bread. Just as your hands can spread germs to the food you will eat, so can a knife or a cutting surface. When a utensil comes in contact with raw meat it should be thoroughly washed before cutting anything else.
- Cook food to a safe temperature: This means using a meat thermometer when cooking meat, fish, or chicken. All meats should be cooked to at least 145 degrees–even if rare–but poultry and pork should be cooked to at least 165 degrees, ground beef to 160 degrees.
- Wash your hands frequently:Always wash your hands before cooking, after handling raw meat, after using the restroom, and before eating. The number one cause of food-poisoning is poor hand washing.
- Keep raw foods separate from ready-to-eat foods when shopping, preparing food or storing food.
- Refrigerate or freeze perishable foods promptly (within two hours of purchasing or preparing them).
- Defrost food safely. Do not thaw foods at room temperature. The safest way to thaw foods is to defrost foods in the refrigerator or to microwave the food using the “defrost” or “50 percent power” setting. Running cold water over the food also safely thaws the food.
- Throw it out when in doubt. If you aren’t sure if a food has been prepared, served or stored safely, discard it. Leftovers should be put away in the fridge or freezer within two hours. When re-heating leftovers, only warm up enough for you to eat at that sitting; continuing the cycle of reheating food, placing it back into the refrigerator, then reheating it again the next day, increases the chances of acquiring a food-borne illness.
Keep in mind that even with the best intentions and hygiene it’s still possible to be exposed to a contaminated food. And this is why many natural health experts recommend keeping your immune system in top working order at all times.