Saturday, October 10, 2009

Why do we get Food Poisoning?

Bugs. Yes, bugs and the bad stuff they produce: bacteria and viruses or their toxins cause food poisoning. You may be happy to know, the stomach’s hydrochloric acid kills most bacteria. However those that cause food poisoning can resist this strong acid and wreak havoc on your digestion. Bring back memories?

What happens?
* The bacteria or virus is present and multiplying due to unhygienic handling of food or contaminated food left out overnight and eaten by you. With warm moist food, one bacterium can divide itself every half hour and produce 16 billion clones in 12 hours.
* After the bacteria, virus or toxin is swallowed; you don’t get ill immediately due to the incubation period, which lasts from hours to days. The time depends on the organism and how many of them were swallowed.
* During the incubation period, the microbes pass through the stomach into the intestine, attach to the cells lining the intestinal walls, and begin to multiply there. Nice…….
* Some types of microbes stay in the intestine, some produce a toxin that is absorbed into the bloodstream, and some go deeper into body tissues.
* The symptoms depend on the type of microbe.
* There is so much overlap between microbes that it is difficult to say which one caused the illness and from which foods.

What are these bugs (pathogens) called and where do they hide?

The following list will make you realize how difficult it is to determine which microbe and which food made you ill.
* Campylobacter, the leading cause of diarrhea: undercooked poultry, raw milk, or non-chlorinated water.
* Salmonella, second most common cause of food poisoning: raw eggs, raw poultry, raw and undercooked meats, unpasteurized milk and eggs, unwashed fruits and vegetables.
* Escherichia coli (E. coli), third most common cause of food poisoning; potential danger includes acute kidney failure in children; manure on meat, undercooked meat and poultry, non-chlorinated water, sprouts, unpasteurized apple juice and people with unwashed hands.
* Clostridium botulinum: home-canned foods with low acid content, such as asparagus, green beans, beets, corn and fish; chopped garlic in oil, chili peppers, tomatoes, honey and fermented fish.
* Clostridium perfringens: high protein or starchy foods, cooked beans and gravies, leftovers.
* Cyclospora: fresh fruits and vegetables contaminated by infected feces on hands.
* Listeria, serious for pregnant women, can lead to a miscarriage: contaminated dairy products, vegetables, fish and meat products.
* Toxoplasma: improperly handled meat, undercooked meat, fruits and vegetables contaminated with cat feces.

The Center for Disease Control in the US lists the Top Ten foods leading to confirmed cases of food poisoning:
1. Mixed dishes (casseroles, sandwiches)
2. Greens/vegetable salads
3. Turkey
4. Fruits and vegetables
5. Beef
6. Fish (not shellfish)
7. Juices, beverages
8. Eggs
9. Protein salad
10. Ham

It may seem that these are all the foods in your home. You may be happy to know that high salt, high sugar or high acid foods stop bacteria from growing. You need not fear your salted meats, jam, and pickled vegetables. However, there is no need to live in fear if you handle food correctly.