On the heels of Thanksgiving and all the leftovers that come with that meal and the recent recall of Romaine lettuce, I felt this week’s journal entry would be appropriate to discuss food poisoning, the microbes associated with food and the effects it has on the individuals. There are any number of different chemicals, biological agents or biologic toxins that can cause food poisoning. Salmonella is often associated with a food born illness. There are microbial agents that produce toxins in foods or in the body during and infection. In improper handling of food, the preparation of, or poor conditions of storing food, botulinum toxin can be produced by anaerobic bacterium Clostridium botulinum. Food that is improperly preserved or foods that are canned are susceptible since the spores are somewhat resistant to heat. Botulinum is so powerful of a toxin that is can, and has, been used and stored as a biological weapon. People develop a variety of signs and symptoms when afflicted with Clostridium botulinum. Early symptoms may include headache, blurred vision which could progress to more severe central nervous afflictions such as facial droop, respiratory difficulty and progressive paralysis.
Patients who go left untreated have a high mortality rate. There is an antitoxin for botulism, however, since most facilities do not carry it, the treatment is mostly supportive care, particularly respiratory. Escherichia (E coli) is a bacterium that can live in our intestines which typically keep our gut healthy. There are other strains of E Coli that can make us sick from eating contaminated foods or water. Shiga toxin is one strain that can damage the lining of the intestine. This can lead to gastroenteritis from the Shiga toxin that is not part of the normal flora. Signs and symptoms of this poisoning include abdominal pain and cramps, diarrhea, vomiting, fever and frank shock. Patients who experience food poisoning are usually tested by providing a stool sample. Antibiotics are not a recommended treatment for E-Coli poisoning, however, supportive care, replacing fluids are part of the treatment. With the holidays upon us, family gatherings and food left out for grazing it is wise to know how long food can be left out and when it should be stored, how it is stored.
Additionally, educating oneself on proper food handling, cleaning food along with preparation and knowing what temperatures food should be prepared safely will help stave off those nasty microbes that can and will infect the food if the conditions are just right. Some items to note: when eating ground beef that may have not been cooked long enough to which potentially have the bacteria from the animal’s intestines, even eating the smallest amount of not properly cooked meat can lead to E Coli. Unpasteurized milk or raw milk can also potentially carry the bacteria that can make one sick, along with letting milk products sit out too long to pick up bacteria. Cross contamination can also occur in our own kitchen but using utensils and cutting boards that have not been properly decontaminated after cutting raw meat or other foods allowing the bacteria to build up.
In addition to proper food handling and preparation, we must constantly use good hygiene tactics. Hand-washing is good measure to avoid fecal oral route transmissions of food borne illnesses. It is always good to wash our hands after changing diapers, playing with our pets and after bathroom use. The CDC, My Plate and other nutritional guidelines on the internet and articles can provide the proper food handling, preparation and storage guidelines. So, for those Thanksgiving leftovers, bag up the turkey and is sides within two hours after preparation and get them into the refrigerator. Once items have been placed in the refrigerator that turkey is good for two to three days, some of the side dishes no more than four to five days.
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