We all love to eat, and for as many people as there are, there are just as many different opinions about what makes a truly unforgettable meal. But there's one thing that can make any meal, no matter how succulent, how gastronomically divine, turn sour in your belly and that is food poisoning. Surely you have myriad quetsions about it. If you have ever suffered from it, or know someone who has, you know all too well that, well in a word, it “sucks!” But what exactly is it? What causes it? How can you treat it?
Food poisoning typically presents with flu-like symptoms including nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea. It can differ in severity depending on what type of food poisoning you have, and it is caused when a person ingests bacteria, viruses, parasites or other harmful toxins. Most often, food poisoning can be caused by one of several different things. This article will list a majority of them but will focus primarily upon E. coli.
This particular source of food poisoning is the least severe, though a sufferer may not think so when enduring it. Despite its lack of severity, it is highly contagious. Norwalk comes from shellfish and other similar seafood that is caught in contaminated waters laden with traces of fecal matter. By itself, this would be a non-issue, but if the shellfish in question are not properly and thoroughly prepared, they can cause painful abdominal cramping, watery diarrhea, nausea, vomiting and a low-grade fever.
Oh gosh! Not sure about you, but the name alone sounds bad and something to avoid! Its symptoms are similar to Norwalk, though bloody, watery stool is far more common, along with muscle pain. It, like Norwalk, tends to go away on its own with a moderate amount of discomfort on the part of the victim. However, complications, including death, can arise if the sufferer has a compromised immune system due to cancer, liver disease or an immune-deficiency disease.
Mushrooms are another potential source of food poisoning via mycotoxins. Not all are bad for you of course. Those that are tasty and healthy on pizza or in a savory dish should 'not' be confused with the ones which cause hallucinagenic trips. And those should never be confused with the mushrooms which can make you sick or kill you outright. Some of these are especially insidious because not only do some like the Amanita phalloides look like edible and safe mushrooms, but there is often a delayed reaction. Some can do as little as cause an upset stomach, while one of the worst, claviceps purpurea, contains a neurotoxin which can lead to the loss of limbs and death.
If you have ever made eggs, prepared raw chicken or other raw meat, or handled salad dressing or various dairy products, you might have come close to coming in contact with salmonella and the disease it causes, salmonellosis. Those who get it tend to experience abdominal cramping, diarrhea, vomiting, fever and a headache. While not the most prevalent bacteria when it comes to food poisoning, it manages to still count for at least a third of all deaths from food poisoning.
Fish are yet another source of food poisoning (see shellfish above), but did you know that you can get a tapeworm from freshwater fish? Not every freshwater fish contains it of course, but improper inspection and preparation of such a fish can lead the eater to become the host for the single largest parasite that can set up kip in our guts. Fish-borne parasites like this are most common in North and South America, Eastern Europe, Asia and in other areas where seafood plays a large part in the local diet.
Escherichia coli or E. coli is fairly common in most warm-blooded mammals. So why is it on this list? Many variants of the bacteria are harmless, but those that are not can certainly ruin your day. Take for instance, E. coli 0157:H7. This pernicious little fellow can lead to violent diarrhea and worst of all, kidney failure. It can most often be encountered by those swimming in or drinking water contaminated with fecal mater, eating vegetables that have been fertilized with manure or eating undercooked beef. Despite the widespread belief that this is a disease unique to the tropics and developing countries, even meat in modern, first world locales can become contaminated. During the slaughtering process, if fecal matter or the intestines come in contact with the meat prior to or during tenderization or grinding, it can easily be compromised. This is why such stringent measures must be maintained to keep both livestock and those who will eventually eat the meat of said livestock safe.
While some instances of food poisoning are out of your hands, especially if you did not prepare the meal, you can minimize your potential exposure to it by going to restaurants and eateries that are trusted. Purchasing your meat, produce and dairy products from trusted sources is also a fine way to keep it at bay. And, once you get the food home, common-sense rules the day. Keep all cooking and food prep surfaces sanitized before and after, and remember the golden rule of food preparation – wash your hands, both prior to prep and immediately following!