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Food Poisoning – Answers And Resources To Your Questions

By on 04/06/2015
food poisoning

Food Poisoning

Food Poisoning Due To Bacterial Contamination

food poisoning

When you get a bout of nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, sometimes with fever, chills and abdominal cramps, (an illness called gastroenteritis), it is generally due to a virus; usually rotavirus or norovirus.  Rotavirus is a common cause of diarrhea in infants and norovirus is the commonest cause for serious gastroenteritis in adults, especially outbreaks of foodborne infection (think cruise ships).  Though you may feel like you have been poisoned, this is rarely a true food poisoning due to bacterial contamination.  These infections are treated with hydration, usually orally, although seriously dehydrated individuals may require iv fluids. Most viral infections – like a cold for example – get better by themselves.

More serious illnesses are caused by several bacteria, also carried on food. Some of these bacteria can infect food at a processing factory and then be carried on that food all across the country, causing outbreaks of illness wherever the food is sold. Just this month there was a small outbreak of gastroenteritis in Kansas caused by a bacteria called Listeria monocytogenes which had contaminated the little individual cups of Blue Bell ice cream served at hospitals.  Blue Bell put out an immediate recall of the contaminated batch.  No one became seriously ill in this outbreak.

But many people will remember the outbreak of HUS (hemorrhagic uremic syndrome) caused by a strain of E. coli in 1993.  Over 700 people, mostly children under age 10, became ill after eating undercooked hamburgers at 73 Jack-in-the-Box restaurants in California, Oregon and Washington. Four children died (including one who caught the bacteria from a child who had eaten a hamburger) and nearly two hundred others were left with permanent injuries, including brain damage and kidney damage.  That was the worst outbreak in modern history.

What are the commonest causes for bacterial gastroenteritis?

* Escherichia coli (E. coli) – a normal inhabitant of everyone’s gut and the gut of animals – usually contaminates meat, raw milk and raw vegetables

* Staphylococcus species – found in meat, eggs and dairy products

* Shigella species – usually from salads and sandwiches, either from contaminated water in growing fields or from unwashed hands of the people who made the salads and sandwiches

* Salmonella species – meat, dairy products and eggs

* Campylobacter species – meat and poultry

* Yersinia – pork

* Listeria monocytogenes – meat, dairy products, fruit and vegetables

How do foods become contaminated?

food poisoning

* Many people handle the meats and fruits and vegetables we select at the grocery stores before we buy them.  There is a long chain of handlers from farm workers, to factory workers, to truckers and the grocery store stockers.   A common cause for contamination is that someone didn’t bother to wash his or her hands after using the bathroom, usually in the  processing plant.

* Water used to irrigate the crops may also be contaminated with animal manure or even human sewage

* Sometimes intestinal bacteria from the animals can contaminate the meat at the slaughterhouse


What are the symptoms of bacterial food poisoning?

* Diarrhea – sudden onset of moderate to severe diarrhea – depending on the bacteria, the stool may be bloody

* Nausea – with out without vomiting

* Fever

* Abdominal cramping

The difficult part is differentiating among the various bacteria – because each bacteria has a different course and needs a different medical treatment.  The doctor will order quite a number of tests on the diarrheal stool, including pH, culture, the type and number of white blood cells in the stool, and will want a report on the volume, appearance of blood, wateriness, etc. The type of food eaten and the time of onset of symptoms after ingestion, as well as the symptoms themselves help to solve the mystery of which bacteria caused the outbreak.


How is the illness treated?

food poisoning

* First rehydrate. Orally if possible. With iv fluids if either vomiting or dehydration is severe

* Start with the BRATT diet – bananas, rice, apple sauce, tea and clear liquids and toast

* Advance diet as tolerated, avoiding dairy products and fruits (other than bananas) for a few days

* Identify the organism. There is a nation wide network of public health and food regulatory laboratories called PulseNet  that will generally be able to isolate the bacteria within 30 hours of obtaining a stool specimen

* Initiate appropriate antibiotics – if any are needed. Some bacteria, like the viruses, cause illness that resolves by itself

How can bacterial infection from food be prevented?

* Always wash your hands after using the bathroom

* Wash all fruits and vegetables

* Keep your kitchen very clean

* Use different cutting boards for raw and cooked meats or poultry or vegetables

* Keep food refrigerated or in the oven until it is time for it to be served

* Heat left-overs up to a high temperature to kill any bacteria that may have bee introduced

* Avoid eating any raw meat or shellfish – do not consume unpasteurized milk or eat dairy products made from unpasteurized milk – avoid eating raw eggs

* People with problems with their immune systems, pregnant women, toddlers and the elderly should avoid unpasteurized fruit juices or cider and avoid soft cheeses (Brie, Mexican, Camembert) which are made with raw milk


In general,  production of food products in the United States is of very high quality.  The FDA regulates the food industry carefully with respect to contamination.  Problems occur, but when you think of all the farms and processing plants that produce the incredible number and variety of foods that we eat in this country, the dangers of food poisoning are pretty small.

If you do think you might have food poisoning or severe gastroenteritis, go to the ER or an urgent care for evaluation.

 Excellent Resources For You:

Food Safety (dot) gov – look up the symptoms of food poisoning and what to do

What Exactly Is Food Poisoning?What Exactly Is Food Poisoning?
Sometimes, food can be infected, causing you to get sick. Join Trace as he discusses the cause of foodborne illnesses. Follow DNews on Twitter: Follow Trace…


Stomach Flu vs. Food Poisoning Medical CourseStomach Flu vs. Food Poisoning Medical Course
For Educational Use Only – Fair Use – What is the difference between a stomach flu and food poisoning rn.



Tell me, have you ever had a “food poisoning” and what were your symptoms?  How did you get over it?







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