Foodborne illnesses or commonly known as food poisoning that is caused by eating food that is contaminated with pathogens, generally bacteria or a virus such as Campylobacter, Salmonella, or E. coli or containing toxic chemicals. Contaminated food is very difficult to detect but the consequences are easily identifiable. Food poisoning can cause severe inconvenience, but it rarely needs medical attention. Recovery measures from food poisoning are the frequent intake of plenty of fluids, good hand hygiene & light meals, and takes at least two days for complete recovery. Food poisoning, contrary to the name, can also occur from contaminated water.
Sources of Food Contamination
Improper handwashing practices are the number one reason for food contamination in the restaurant industry. Other sources of food poisoning are raw foods such as
- Fish & seafood,
- Eggs and poultry
- Raw fruit & vegetables (pesticides & insecticides)
Handling these food items is crucial as pathogens from the meat can enter the raw vegetables or any cooked food, if they are placed on the same counter or if the drip from the meat falls on them. So while working in a professional food service establishment such as a restaurant, food trucks, outdoor catering, it is important to follow the four Cs of food hygiene:
- Cross-contamination Prevention
- Cleaning all surfaces and utensils
- Chilling cooked food properly
- Cooking at the right temperature
Symptoms Of Food Poisoning
There are five different microbes that can cause food poisoning such as:
- E. Coli
- C. perfringens
The different pathogens cause different forms of symptoms that are visible within one to 36 hours after the consumption of the contaminated food. The most common symptoms from food poisoning are:
- Dehydration from loss of water
Additional pathogen-specific symptoms include:
- Stomach cramps
- Abdominal and Muscle pain
- Loss of appetite
- High temperature
Who is at risk?
Food poisoning is an ailment that can affect anyone as the pathogen is transmitted from the food you eat. The severity lies on the immunity level of the person i.e., someone with lower immunity is more prone to be affected by the pathogen and so will take longer to recover fully. Hence, the following demographic is at more risk:
- Adults < 65 years
- Children > 5 years
- Those with weakened immune systems
- Pregnant women
Diagnosis for Food Poisoning
Generally, the symptoms for food poisoning are not severe enough to be rushed to the ER and recovery can be made with homemade remedies. Yet, in severe situations medical diagnosis is required in terms of stool and blood tests. Commonly asked questions by the doctor are:
- Most recent food or drink
- “Is anyone else in the family affected?”
- “Did you recently visit any countries?”
- Current and past medical conditions
- Any prescription and over-the-counter medicines you may recently taken
When to seek medical advice?
Symptoms of food poisoning lasts from 24 to 48 hours of infection. When the symptoms listed above lasts longer than 48 hours or when you have any of the symptoms alongside the vomiting & diarrhea, the infection severity might need you to seek medical assistance.
- Blood in the stool
- Extreme dehydration
- Lightheadedness when standing
- Decreased urination rate
- Diarrhea lasting longer than 72 hours,
- Consistent vomiting causing loss of minerals
Prevention of foodborne illness is not at all complex. All you need to do is practice good hand hygiene and clean the cooking area.
Hand Washing Practices
Soap is your best friend and scrub your hands together regularly with soap and water before & after preparing, serving, and eating food. While being outdoors or someplace with water shortage wipe your hands using wet wipes or hand sanitiser.
Clean Kitchen Surface
Clean & disinfect food preparation surfaces at least twice in a day. Once after opening up and once before closing for the day. Wipe off any drips from cooking or preparing raw meat, fish or eggs. Ideally use hot water and dishwasher liquid to clean dirty utensils, cutlery and crockery.
Always cook the food completely. The temperature range of 40-140oF is where most pathogens/ microbes tend to multiply and wreak havoc. Always ensure reheated food is hot all the way throughout and reheated once. Rare steak is nearly raw meat – always cook the meat throughout. When cooling the cooked food, bring the cooked food to room temperature within two hours of cooking. Split large portions into smaller containers to quicken the cooling
- Scrub your hands before and after handling food.
- Keep raw food separated from the cooked food
- Use separate utensils and chopping boards for cooked and raw food
- Store raw food below cooked food within the fridge to prevent contamination from dripping
- Symptoms can appear within one to 24 hours of food consumption and last upto 48hrs of infection
- On being infected, frequently drink fluids and light meals till completely recovered
In restaurants and any other food establishments, meals are prepared by others and hence it is important to follow strict food preparation and safety guidelines. Health inspectors periodically check restaurants and rate the establishment in accordance with level of adherence to the guidelines. Additionally, different states mandate that people working in the establishment need to be holders of a valid food handlers permit to be eligible for handling food professionally. Easy Food Handlers is a State of Utah Department of Health Approved Provider that provides online training and certifies food handlers permit on behalf of the State of Utah and also Renew Food Handlers Card.