Leaving food out of the fridge for too long, undercooking food, microwaving food unevenly, cooking or reheating food at too low a temperature, thawing/marinating food on the counter instead of in the fridge, keeping leftovers too long in the fridge, cooling large quantities of food the wrong way, having the wrong refrigerator/freezer temperature setting, overstuffing the fridge so it doesn’t work right, eating from unclean plates and utensils, and preparing food on unclean countertops or with unclean hands are all common causes of food-borne illness.
WHAT ARE FOOD-BORNE ILLNESSES?
Bacteria and viruses are way too small to see, and they’re everywhere. Most bacteria are harmless to humans. Some of them are actually helpful to humans.
But some of them are up to no good, and those are the ones we’re talking about here: the weasels responsible for food-borne illnesses (illnesses you get from food).
Food-borne illnesses are caused by our bodies becoming invaded by certain germs bacteria and virusesor by little critters called parasites. Illnesses may also be caused by toxins (poisons) produced by bacteria contained in food.
Parasites take up residence in our digestive systems and/or other organs and happily live there until we can drive them out with medications. We avoid getting them in the first place by killing them through heat or by washing them off what we’re about to eat before we eat it.
FOOD-BORNE ILLNESS? Photo Gallery
Happily, we do have our own built-in germ patrol (the immune system). Our immune system is set up to zap bacteria, viruses, and other teeny invaders that get into our
bloodstream or infect the lining of our gastrointestinal tract.
When disease-causing bacteria and viruses come on too strong, they make us sick until our immune systems can beat them back and/or kill them off completely.
Sometimes people with food-borne illness think they have the flu, but they don’t. They’re sick, sick, sick from some lousy food or drink they inadvertently consumed.
One famous and very unpleasant symptom of certain food-borne illnesses is the Green Apple Two-step, better known as diarrhea.
Other symptoms may include vomiting, headache, fever, cramping, and utter exhaustion. But symptoms vary. And they can occur within a half hour of eating contaminated food or they can show up days, or even weeks, later.
Food-borne illness can especially be a problem for pregnant women, infants, old people, and people whose bodies can’t fight infection very well (see here).
LIQUIDS NEED TO BE DRUNK to replace fluids lost through vomiting and/or diarrhea. When symptoms are severe (bloody diarrhea, excessive nausea and vomiting, high fever), food-borne illness can become a medical emergency. Get medical help, pronto.
In some cases, a medical professional will need to figure out what kind of germs or critters are involved and exactly what medication to use to get rid of ’em. So preserve the evidence. If the suspect food is still available, wrap it, mark it DANGER, and freeze it. Save all packaging materials. You may be asked to make these things available for testing and/or alerting the public.
Also: If the food was served at a large gathering, a restaurant, or a food-service facility, or if it is a commercial product, call your local public health department.