What are food-borne illnesses?
Food-borne illnesses or food poisonings are a common, yet preventable, public health problem. In America each year one out of six people become ill from eating contaminated food. Their sickness is caused by them eating contaminated foods or drinking contaminated beverages. There are various disease-causing microbes, or pathogens which can contaminate foods; explaining why there are so many different food-borne infections. And some contaminated foods even contain poisonous chemicals, or other harmful toxins that can cause food-borne disease.
Infectious diseases caused by food-borne microorganisms are spread through food or beverages. These diseases are common, stressful, and are even sometimes life-threatening problems for millions of people in the United States, as well as around the world. In fact, it is estimated that each year in the United States, 1 out 6 people become infected with food-borne diseases, more than 100,000 are hospitalized, and more than 3,000 die of diseases. Also, the health cost of food-borne diseases is exceptionally high and in the United States is estimated to be more than 5 to 6 billion dollars yearly; monies paid out directly for medical expenses and loss of work earnings
What are the common infections caused by contaminated foods? What are their symptoms?
- Botulism-caused by the bacteria Clostridium botulinum; found in canned foods with low acid content, such as asparagus, green beans, beets and corn and is caused by failure to follow proper canning methods. This virus colonizes in the intestinal tract. A person may experience double vision, blurred vision, drooping eyelids, slurred speech, difficulty swallowing, dry mouth, and muscle weakness. Infants with botulism appear lethargic, feed poorly, are constipated, and have a weak cry and poor muscle tone. The muscle weakness is secondary to the bacteria’s paralyzing abilities. In food-borne botulism, symptoms generally begin 18 to 36 hours after eating a contaminated food, but they can occur as early as 6 hours or as late as 10 days.
- Campylobacteriosis- caused by the Campylobacter bacteria; C. Jejuni, C. Fetus, and C. coli. C. Jejuni is responsible for the most cases of this food-borne disease from this bacteria. A person exposed to this virus may have an inflammatory, sometimes bloody, diarrhea (dysentery syndrome), mostly including cramps, fever and pain.
- E. coli–The E. coli that are responsible for the numerous reports of contaminated foods and beverages are those that produce Shiga toxin, so called because the toxin is virtually identical to that produced by Shigella dysenteria. The best-known and also most famous E. coli bacteria that produce Shiga toxin is E. coli O157:H7. [1, 4] Shiga toxin–producing E. coli (STEC) cause approximately 100,000 illnesses, 3,000 hospitalizations, and 90 deaths annually in the United States. found in contaminated food, water, transferred from child to child in daycare settings.
- Acute Hepatitis A-caused by the Hepatitis A virus (HAV); affects the liver. Hepatitis A is highly contagious. It is usually transmitted by the fecal-oral route, either through person-to-person contact or consumption of contaminated food or water. Once infected with this virus a person experiences decreased appetite, nausea, vomiting, fever, abdominal pain, dark urine, very light clay colored bowel movements, and jaundice color to sclera of eyes and skin. Symptoms can last up to 2 months and approximate 20% of people have prolonged or relapsing disease; lasting up to 6 months.
- Listeriosis-is food poisoning caused by eating foods contaminated with the Listeria monocytogenes (L. monocytogenes) bacterium. A person with Listeriosis usually has fever and muscle aches, sometimes preceded by diarrhea or other gastrointestinal symptoms. Almost everyone who is diagnosed with listeriosis has invasive infection, in which the bacteria spread beyond the gastrointestinal tract.In pregnant women, the infection can result in miscarriage, premature delivery, serious infection of the newborn, and even stillbirth.
- Norovirus Infection- Norovirus is quite contagious; known as the most common cause of food-borne disease outbreaks in the United States as well as the most common cause of acute gastroenteritis (food poisoning/stomach flu). A person infected with this virus may experience nausea, vomiting, abdominal pain and diarrhea. Some people also experience fever, headaches and body aches. Each year, the Norovirus causes is responsible for more than 20 million illnesses and contributes to more than 70,000 hospitalizations and approximately 1000 deaths.
- Salmonella-caused by the Salmonella bacteria; capable of infecting cold and warm blooded animals as well as humans. This virus is found on poultry, pork, beef and fish, seafood, (if the meat is prepared incorrectly or is infected with the bacteria after preparation), infected eggs, egg products, and milk when not prepared, and/or refrigerated properly. The Salmonella bacteria is also found on tainted fruits and vegetables. Symptoms include abdominal cramps, sudden onset of diarrhea, and fever. A person may also experience nausea, vomiting, and headache but these symptoms occur less frequently.
- Shigellosis-caused by a group of bacteria called Shigella. Most people who are infected with Shigella develop diarrhea, fever, and stomach cramps starting a day or two after they are exposed to the bacteria. These symptoms resolve within 7 days.
What are the treatment options for food-borne Illnesses? How can they be prevented?
In a majority of cases, food-borne illnesses resolve on their own; taking as few as 2 days or as long as 2 weeks to go away. There is a vaccination available to help prevent Hepatitis A. In most of the food-borne diseases since a person loses lots of fluid (electrolytes) from the vomiting and diarrhea, the main focus of treatment is to correct dehydration. Re-hydration is recommended for all diarrhea cases along with supportive care. If a person has a severe case of a food-borne illness/infection it could progress to a serious condition known as Hemolytic Uremic Syndrome (HUS). This disease affects the kidneys and will destroy them if not treated. Therefore it is important to stay in touch with your primary care provider (PCP) for guidance and possible antimicrobial treatment; preventing further spread of the infection as well as control any damage that could result from it.
According to the CDC Vital Signs/Food Safety:
Farmers, grocery stores, and people who make, sell, or serve food can:
- Use good management practices to reduce contamination when raising livestock or food animals.
- Adopt proven preventive measures for food safety plans in all food production and service facilities.
- Follow the US Food and Drug Administration Model Food Code in restaurants and other places that serve food.
- Keep good records of where foods and food ingredients come from.
- Train and certify managers in food safety in all restaurants.
Health care providers can:
- Diagnose and treat infections by using best practices and report them rapidly.
- Talk to high-risk patients about food safety.
- Report suspected outbreaks to your local health department.
All of us can:
- Clean: Wash hands, cutting boards, utensils, and counter tops.
- Separate: Keep raw meat, poultry, and seafood separate from ready-to-eat foods.
- Cook: Use a food thermometer to ensure that foods are cooked to a safe internal temperature: 145°F for whole meats (allowing the meat to rest for 3 minutes before carving or consuming), 160°F for ground meats, and 165°F for all poultry.
- Chill: Keep your refrigerator below 40°F and refrigerate food that will spoil.
- Report suspected illness: from food to your local health department.
- Don’t prepare food for others if: you have diarrhea or vomiting.
- Be especially careful preparing food: for children, pregnant women, those in poor health, and older adults.
As you see we all can play a significant part in preventing food-borne illnesses and each and everyone one of us are responsible to do all we can. It’s not just our responsibility to prevent ourselves from contacting a food-borne illness. It is also our responsibility to prevent the spread of these diseases to others. Isn’t it amazing how we all affect one another? But what’s even more amazing is how many of us don’t realize just how important we are to one another!