Everyone dreads getting shot down by a nasty bout of food poisoning. And during hot summer months, incidences of food-borne illnesses soar. The scene of the crime is usually outdoors since bacteria grows fastest at temperatures above 90 degrees. Plus picnic and barbecue sites usually lack kitchen safeguards like refrigeration, temperature-controlled cooking and a place to wash up.
In the US food poisoning leads to the hospitalization of 300,000 and kills 5,000 annually. In most cases, the victim suffers only mild discomfort, but sometimes an infection can become life-threatening. The biggest challenge is identifying which bacteria is the culprit; knowing exactly how and when you contracted food poisoning can make all the difference in recovery and could even save your life.
Dr. Oz has conducted CSI’s on 3 major food-borne illnesses. Here are the forensics you need to identify these major types of food poisoning, followed by essential food safety tips.
- Hits within 6-12 hours
- Watery diarrhea
- Abdominal pain
Culprit: Pasta salad with mayonnaise
The food-borne illness staphylococcus often breeds on salty and sweet foods, like the mayo in summer salads or even in desserts like cake. Uncooked foods that are made by hand are most susceptible to growing staphylococci bacteria, which thrive in heat. The common symptoms of watery diarrhea, stomach pain and intense vomiting strike almost immediately – sometimes within as little as an hour – like a freight train running through your body.
The gastroenteritis caused by staphylococcus is not usually life-threatening, but it does cause serious fluid loss so be sure to drink plenty of clear liquids and sodium- or glucose-containing solutions. A simple homemade remedy is a mixture of 1 level teaspoon of salt and 4 heaping tablespoons of sugar added to 1 liter of water.
- Hits around 12-24 hours later
- Watery diarrhea
- Diarrhea turns bloody within 3 days
- Vomiting is rare
Culprit: Burger with lettuce and tomato
In this case, the E.Coli infection could have been transmitted from either the burger or the lettuce. E.Coli virus is caused by fecal material from cattle, and the bacteria can contaminate meat during processing and also spill over into the water supply used to irrigate crops.
In E.Coli poisoning, bacteria multiply on food. After ingestion, E.Coli eventually lands in the small intestine. As the body’s immune system tries to fight off the bacteria, damage is caused to the lining of the intestinal wall, causing blood to leak into the intestinal tract, creating bloody diarrhea. This condition, known as hemorrhagic E.Coli, can travel throughout the bloodstream, putting you at risk for serious complications such as sepsis, or blood poisoning. Seek medical assistance if you think you’ve contracted this invasive food-borne illness.
- Hits around 24-48 hours
- Severe stomach pain
- Diarrhea with blood or mucous
Culprit: Chicken sandwich
Besides poultry, salmonella bacteria are also found in beef, dairy and uncooked egg dishes such as Caesar salad dressing and hollandaise sauce. Salmonella is caused by human or animal feces, which can penetrate meat and eggs in several ways: via contact with sewage; by how livestock chickens are raised, crammed into hen houses and living on top of their own feces; and even by invading the hard shell of a chicken egg. Untreated, the salmonella infection eventually bores holes through the intestinal wall. A fever signals the virus has spread beyond the GI tract and is invading the bloodstream. Like E.Coli, salmonella can be especially dangerous for those with compromised immune systems, the young or the very old. If you suspect you or someone you love has salmonella poisoning, don’t delay in contacting your physician who will prescribe antibiotic therapy.
Now that you know how to recognize these major food-borne illnesses, go further and avoid them completely by practicing these 3 food safety tips:
Food safety at the beach
- Practice LIFO: Last in, first out. In other words, pack your cooler with what you’re going to eat first on top.
- Bury your cooler or lunch bag part-way in the sand and shade it with an umbrella.
Food safety in the kitchen
- Wash hands thoroughly with warm soapy water for 20 seconds before and after food preparation.
- Wrap meats in protective coverings like butcher paper or plastic wrap and place on a low shelf in the fridge to prevent cross-contamination.
- Allocate separate color-coded cutting boards for meat, salads, etc.
Food safety on the grill
- Use a meat thermometer with a sensor at the tip so you get an accurate reading inside the meat.
- Cook beef to 160 degrees; cook chicken to at least 165 degrees until juices run clear.
Click here for more detailed tips on practicing food safety.