Food poisoning may have been a joke back in your college days when you were using it as a cover-up for a really bad hangover, but the reality is pretty sobering. According to the US Centers for Disease Control, 76 million Americans get food poisoning every year. Of those, over 300,000 require hospitalization and 5,000 actually die. That’s as many people dead from food poisoning as from asthma or alcohol poisoning.
What’s scariest is that while we may like to think it is the second-rate restaurants that are making us sick, most cases of food poisoning originate in the home. The condition is a fair weather friend, too: Most cases occur in summer, when warmer temperatures make it easier for bacteria to grow on food.
Food Poisoning Symptoms
These usually include vomiting, diarrhea and stomach cramps. These typically start 4 to 36 hours after eating the affected food, but have been reported to show up as early as 30 minutes to as late as 30 days after eating.
Different kinds of food poisoning will give different kinds of symptoms. If your vision is affected, you’ve probably got botulism (which is one of the nastiest conditions around, by the way), especially if you are having difficulty speaking, trouble breathing and paralysis that starts near the top of your body and moves downward. Salmonella poisoning will deliver bloody diarrhea along with fever and chills. If you are seeing an awful lot of blood in your diarrhea, you may have the infamous E. coli. If you have any of these symptoms get yourself to an emergency room immediately.
How to Prevent Food Poisoning
The first thing to do is understand that the bacteria that causes food poisoning needs warmth. So keeping your foods at the appropriate temperatures will help a lot. That means when you are buying the food, bringing it home, storing it, cooking it, and eating it.
1) While not all food poisoning comes from meat and dairy, these kinds of foods are more likely to grow the bad bugs that make us sick. To keep food cool just after you’ve bought it and on the way home, bring a cooler and a few frozen cold packs. Putting at least the meat and dairy in the dark, cold cooler cuts your risk by a lot.
2) Another thing to be aware of when you are buying food is the expiration date. Just because something is on the grocery store’s shelves does not mean it is before its expiration date. Many items are just at their expiration dates. Be like your Mom and dig in to the farthest back items to get the piece of food that has the expiration date that’s furthest out.
3) Cook your food at the temperatures recommended, and within two days of buying it. Eat it promptly, or store it safely. If you have even a whisp of a doubt about whether a food is okay to eat, toss it. This is especially important if you are feeding it to young children or elderly people, as these two groups are particularly vulnerable to food poisoning.
4) Wash your hands. Again, be like your Mother. Wash your hands for at least 20 seconds under running water. Keep hand towels clean.
5) Thoroughly wash all vegetables and fruits. Briefly soak vegetables in a bath of two tablespoons vinegar to one pint of water to get the dirt, pesticides, bacteria and any waxy residues off. You won’t get sick and the vegetables will taste much better.
6) Put your kitchen sponge in the microwave at least every other day. That sponge is the dirtiest thing in your kitchen. It is disgusting, but your toilet seat may actually be cleaner. And anti-microbial soap is good, but its not enough. Just 30 seconds in the microwave will kill all the germs on the sponge.