With all the recent news of food-borne illnesses across the nation, it is a good idea to know the symptoms of such illnesses. If we know the symptoms, we can act quickly to get appropriate medical attention. This in turn can save lives, sick days and medical bills.
Often, when we are sick with food-borne illness, we mistake it for the flu or a stomach bug. And, if we are otherwise healthy, our bodies will eventually fight off the illness and we make full recoveries. Many of us may not even seek medical attention after consuming contaminated food and getting sick.
However, for those with delicate or weakened immune systems, food-borne illness can be devastating. Babies, young children, pregnant women, the elderly and those with compromised immune systems are especially at risk for food-borne illness, as these individuals cannot fight off a consumed germ as well as the general population.
With the high number of reported E. coli and salmonella outbreaks lately, stemming from everything from peanuts and smoked salmon to concerns about contamination of foods at a state fair, we must act as vigilant consumers to protect ourselves as best we can from tainted food. Unfortunately though, it cannot always be prevented, as food recalls are often only issued after people get sick and the contaminants are traced back to a particular food.
What we can do is always cook food to proper internal temperatures, ensure food is held at proper holding temperatures (generally no longer than 2 hours in the temperature danger zone of 40-140 degrees for perishables); follow proper hand-washing techniques, especially when preparing and before eating food; wash cutting boards and utensils properly; and prevent cross-contamination between uncooked foods like raw meats/poultry/seafood/eggs and ready-to-eat foods like fruits and vegetables. Do not prepare food for others if you already have diarrhea or vomiting and avoid eating high-risk foods, especially by those high risk individuals mentioned above.
Additionally, if we know the symptoms of some of the more common food-borne illnesses, we can seek medical attention more appropriately. The top five food-borne illnesses are listed below, in addition to E. coli infection.
» Norovirus is the most common cause of acute gastroenteritis (stomach bug) in the U.S. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, it causes about 21 million illnesses yearly. Symptoms include nausea, vomiting, stomach cramps and diarrhea. It can also cause fever, body aches and headache. Symptoms typically go away after 1-3 days.
» Salmonellosis is the next most common food-borne illness in the nation. When someone has an infection with Salmonella bacteria, they usually have diarrhea, fever and abdominal cramps 12-72 hours after infection and symptoms usually last 4-7 days.
» Clostridium perfringens bacteria causes about 1 million cases of food-borne illness yearly. Symptoms include watery diarrhea and stomach cramps usually 8-12 hours after infection. Symptoms usually last up to 24 hours and do not include fever or vomiting.
» Staph infections from Staphylococcus aureus bacteria can cause symptoms relatively fast — in about 30 minutes after consuming contaminated food and usually within 1-6 hours after consumption. Nausea, vomiting, diarrhea and stomach cramps are common symptoms.
» Campylobacter infection can cause diarrhea, stomach cramping and pain, fever and sometimes vomiting within 2-5 days of exposure. Symptoms usually last about a week. It is estimated to affect 2.4 million people yearly.
» E. coli infections can vary based on the type of E. coli bacteria, but often cause severe stomach cramps, often bloody diarrhea, vomiting and occasionally a low-grade fever. Symptoms usually last 5-7 days.
For more information on food-borne illness, including the foods more commonly harboring the above bacteria, visit the CDC’s website on food safety at www.cdc.gov