Food that has become contaminated by bacteria, viruses or parasites can cause food poisoning. Your food can become contaminated while growing, harvesting, handling, storing, shipping or cooking.
Food poisoning may cause serious complications, including death. If you are an older adult and you experience food poisoning, longer-term problems may occur. As you get older your immune system weakens and it may be harder to overcome a bout of food poisoning. If you have an existing chronic disease, it can be even more difficult to recover. Your symptoms can start within hours after eating , or sometimes days or even weeks later. Symptoms of food poisoning include:
- Nausea, headaches
- Fever, chills
- Stomach pains, cramps
- Watery or bloody diarrhea
You should see your physician or go to emergency if you experience any of the following:
- Frequent episodes of vomiting
- Inability to keep liquids down
- Bloody vomit or stools, diarrhea for more than three days
- Severe abdominal cramping
- Temperature higher than 100.4 F (38 C)
- Excessive thirst, dry mouth, little or no urination, severe weakness, dizziness
- Blurry vision, muscle weakness and tingling in the arms
Foods to Avoid
Because of how some types of food are produced and stored, they can be a higher risk for food poisoning. Stay away from the following foods to reduce the risk.
- Hot dogs straight from the package, without cooking
- Non-dried deli meats: bologna, roast beef and turkey breast
- Eggs: Raw or lightly cooked, products that contain raw eggs
- Raw or under cooked meat or poultry, such as steak tartar
- Seafood: Sushi, oysters, clams, mussels, refrigerated smoked seafood
- Dairy products: Unpasteurized milk and cheeses including Brie, Camembert, Havarti, blue-veined cheeses
- Raw sprouts: alfalfa, clover, radish
- Refrigerated pates and meat spreads
- Unpasteurized fruit juice and cider
Keep these tips in mind when you shop:
- Check the “best before” date
- Avoid bruised or damaged fruits and vegetables
- Put raw food in individual plastic bags
- Keep raw meat and seafood away from other foods in your cart
- Refrigerate or freeze meat and seafood as soon as you get home
- Wash your reusable grocery bags often
Storing Your Food
Bacteria can grow quickly in foods stored in temperatures between 4°C to 60°C (40°F to 140°F). Perishable food should never reach these temperatures. Other tips to avoid food poisoning:
- Fridge temperature: 4°C (40°F) or lower
- Freezer temperature: 18°C (0°F) or lower
- Put raw meat and seafood in sealed containers or plastic bags on bottom shelf of fridge to avoid drippings onto other foods
- Put cut fruits and vegetables in the fridge
- Cook raw meat and seafood by the “best before” date and no more than 2 to 4 days after buying
- Food left at room temperature too long may contain bacteria or toxins that can’t be destroyed by cooking.
Defrosting The Right Way
When defrosting follow these suggested tips:
- Never defrost at room temperature, always defrost your raw meat and seafood in:
- the fridge
- the microwave
- a sealed bag or container submerged in cold water
- When using the microwave to defrost, cook the food immediately
- Defrost large pieces of meat submerged in cold water with periodic changes of the water so it stays cold
- Do not refreeze thawed food
You can reduce the risk of food poisoning by implementing these practices:
- Hands – Always wash your hands with warm, soapy water for 20 seconds:
- Before and after touching raw meat and seafood
- After using washroom
- After handling pets
- After changing diapers
Fresh fruits and vegetables
Before you eat or cook fresh fruits and vegetables:
- Wash under cool water
- Use a scrub brush when washing fruits and vegetables with a firm skin (carrots, potatoes, melons, squash)
- Do not soak fruit and vegetables in your sink. Sinks may contain unhealthy bacteria.
Kitchen surfaces and utensils
You can prevent the risk of food poisoning from surfaces and utensils by following these tips:
- Clean sinks, kitchen surfaces and containers immediately after they have been in contact with raw meat and seafood.
- Wash plates or utensils that have touched raw food immediately in the dishwasher or in hot, soapy water.
- Use a separate cutting board for raw meat and seafood only.
- Wipe kitchen surfaces with paper towels and change your dishcloths daily.
- Sponges are not a good idea as they are hard to keep bacteria free.
- Clean counter tops, cutting boards and utensils using a cleaning sanitizer or a bleach solution with a ratio of 5 ml bleach to 750 ml of water. The solution can be kept in a spray bottle.
The best way to ensure you have cooked your food safe enough to eat is by taking the internal temperature. Be aware that even though the meat may have turned brown, the bacteria in your food may not have been eliminated.
When taking the temperature, remove the meat from the heat and insert the thermometer into the thickest part. Insert all the way to the middle without touching bones.
- Hamburgers: Insert thermometer into the side of the patty all the way to the middle
- Hot foods should be kept at or above 60 °C (140 °F)
- Use clean plates and utensils for cooked meat so it doesn’t get contaminated with raw meat juices
- Clean your food thermometer in warm, soapy water
Leftovers should be properly stored and reheated to avoid food poisoning. These tips can help:
- Put leftovers in clean containers and freeze or refrigerate as soon as possible
- Do not leave perishable food out for more than 1 hour during summer outdoors and no more than 2 hours at room temperature
- Remove the meat and debone (turkeys for example) before placing in containers
- Cool air can circulate better in your fridge if you don’t overfill it
- Refrigerated leftovers should be eaten within 2 to 4 days
- Reheated food should have an internal temperature of at least 74 °C (165 °F)
- Gravies, soups and sauces should be brought to a full boil
- Avoid reheating the same leftovers more than once
How to Relieve Symptoms of Food Poisoning?
If you think you have food poisoning and it isn’t serious enough to see your physician, here are some tips to follow:
- Your body will need rest as you may feel weaker from not eating or drinking.
- If you are experiencing vomiting and diarrhea you need to replace the fluids you are losing. Try sucking on ice, drink lukewarm water slowly and avoid caffeine. You can also try an oral rehydration solution which can rehydrate you quickly. Be sure to check with your doctor before using an ORS.
- If you can eat, try bananas, rice, applesauce, and toast. These are nutritious and easy for your body to digest.
By following these recommendations, you can greatly reduce the risk of food poisoning.
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