In this interview with MOTUNRAYO JOEL, Chief Medical Laboratory Scientist, Medical Microbiology and Parasitology, Federal Medical Centre, Idi-Aba, Abeokuta, Joseph Ogiogwa, discusses food poisoning and other related issues
What is food poisoning?
Food poisoning is defined as any disease of an infectious or toxic nature or illness resulting from consumption of contaminated food, pathogenic bacteria, viruses, or parasites that contaminate foods. Food poisoning can also be defined as when someone gets sick from eating food or drink that has gone bad or is contaminated. There are two kinds of food poisoning: poisoning by toxic agent or by infectious agent.
What are the signs and symptoms?
Symptoms start many hours to many days after eating contaminated food or drink. Depending on what the cause of the poisoning was,we may include one or more of the following: nausea, abdominal pain, vomitting, diarrhoea, gastroenteritis. In most cases, the body is able to permanently get better after a short period of acute discomfort and illness. Foodborne illnesses can result in permanent health problems or even death.
Who are those at risk for food poisoning?
Everyone is at risk of contracting food poisoning, but some people are more vulnerable and can be at far greater risk of developing serious illnesses with long-term effects. Those high risk groups account for nearly 25 per cent of the population and include older adults, infants, pregnant women and people with weakened immune systems and chronic illnesses such as diabetes, kidney disease, HIV/AIDS and some cancer patients.
What are the causes of food poisoning?
Bacteria and viruses are the most common cause of food poisoning. The symptoms and severity of food poisoning varies, depending on which bacteria or virus has contaminated the food. Food allergy is an abnormal response to a food triggered by your body’s immune system. Foods, such as nuts, milk, eggs, or seafood, can cause allergic reactions in people with food allergies.
Can food poisoning symptoms occur from food eaten a week ago?
Yes, this is because the incubation period of various causes of food poisoning varies from one hour to three days before the symptoms begin to manifest.
How is it treated?
Treatment for food poisoning typically depends on the source of the illness and the severity of the symptoms. For most people, the illness resolves without treatment within a few days; though some types of food poisoning may last longer. Treatment of food poisoning may include replacement of lost fluids. Some children and adults with persistent diarrhoea or vomitting may need hospitalisation, where they can receive salts and fluids through a vein (intravenously), to prevent or treat dehydration. Antibiotics also helps. A doctor may prescribe antibiotics if one has certain kinds of bacterial food poisoning and the symptoms are severe. The sooner treatment begins, the better. During pregnancy, prompt antibiotic treatment may help keep the infection from affecting the baby.
How can one reduce the risk of food poisoning?
Firstly, wash your hands, utensils and food surfaces often. Use hot, soapy water to wash utensils, cutting boards and other kitchen surfaces frequently used. Keep raw foods separate from ready-to-eat foods. Keep raw meat, poultry, fish and shellfish away from other foods during storage to prevent cross-contamination. Cook foods to a safe temperature. Refrigerate or freeze perishable foods within two hours of purchasing or preparing them. Also, throw it out when in doubt. Left-overs kept at room temperature for too long may contain bacteria or toxins that can’t be destroyed by cooking. Then, don’t eat foods that have expired even if it looks and smells good. Use separate chopping boards. Raw foods can contain a harmful bacterium that spreads very easily to anything they touch. If one has cooked food that one is not going to eat straight away, cool it as quickly as possible (within 90 minutes) and store it in the fridge or freezer.
Is it risky to eat vegetables such as tomatoes and spinach raw?
Vegetables are an important part of our diet. In fact, the World Health Organisation Dietary Guidelines recommends that fruits and vegetables fill half our plate. The health benefits of vegetables stem from the fact that they are packed with vitamins, minerals, and fibre, yet low in calories. But cooking vegetables is the surest way to destroy pathogens in foods and decrease one’s risk for foodborne illnesses.
What is the most common mistake with food safety?
It is wrong to taste food to know if it’s still good. This doesn’t work because foodborne pathogens are not detectable by the senses. Secondly, putting cooked meat back on a plate that held raw meat is dangerous. Another cross contamination risk is cracking an ordinary egg, which can contaminate work surfaces with Salmonella for an entire day. One has to know and manage the risks. Also, thawing food on the counter is dangerous. The pathogens that cause foodborne illnesses multiply most rapidly at room temperature. Safe thawing happens in the refrigerator, or using another food safe technique. Washing meat or poultry exacerbates the cross contamination problem. Some people think rinsing an egg increases its safety, not true. The Salmonella risk is inside the egg. Letting food cool before putting it in the fridge is bad. WHO’s advice is to refrigerate perishable foods within two hours (or within one hour if the temperature is over 90˚). Eating raw cookie dough (or other foods with raw eggs) is wrong, this is because the raw eggs could contain Salmonella. The solution is to fully cook the egg—but that’s not always clear-cut. Avoid foods that contain raw or undercooked eggs.
Furthermore, using raw meat marinade on cooked foods creates room for germs from the raw meat (or seafood) to spread to the cooked food. The best idea is to discard marinade. Under cooking meat, poultry, seafood, or eggs is also wrong. Wash your hands regularly because they are a prime vehicle for cross contamination. Effective hand washing goes a long way in protecting personal and public health.
What are the ‘high risk’ foods one should avoid?
High-risk foods can be defined as any ready-to-eat food that will support the growth of pathogenic bacteria easily and does not require any further heat treatment or cooking. These types of food are more likely to be implicated as vehicles of food poisoning organisms consumed in food poisoning incidents. Cooked meat and poultry such as beef, pork, ham, lamb, chicken, turkey, duck, cooked meat products (meat pies and pasties, pate, meat stock & gravy), cook-chill meals, dairy produce (milk, cream, artificial cream), custards, products containing unpasteurised milk, ripened soft and moulded cheeses, egg products(cooked eggs, quiche and products containing uncooked or lightly cooked eggs).