Common Culprits

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Common Culprits

Food Safety
Common Culprits
Common Culprits
Bacterial bugs that make you sick.
Johns Hopkins
InteliHealth Medical Content

Reviewed by the Faculty of Harvard Medical School

Common Culprits of Food Poisoning

The symptoms of food poisoning usually appear anywhere from four hours to two days after eating contaminated food, but sometimes as much as two weeks can go by before symptoms appear. Diarrhea is the most common symptom, but nausea, severe abdominal cramps, vomiting, fever, headaches and difficulty breathing may also occur. If you think you have food poisoning, rest and drink plenty of fluids. If your symptoms are severe or if you or a family member is in a high-risk group (infant, elderly, someone with a compromised immune system), call your doctor immediately.

Here are some common bacteria responsible for food poisoning:

Salmonella is most often found in raw or undercooked meat, poultry and fish, and can be spread to other foods through cross-contamination from utensils and work surfaces that haven't been thoroughly cleaned between uses. Infants, the elderly and chronically ill individuals are most susceptible. To prevent salmonella poisoning, cook all meat, poultry and fish thoroughly. Keep raw foods away from cooked foods, and use separate cutting boards, dishes and knives for raw animal products. For example, if you use a platter to carry raw chicken to the grill for a barbecue, wash the platter thoroughly before you put cooked chicken back on it or use different platters for raw and cooked chicken. Don't eat raw eggs and foods containing raw eggs. (Eating uncooked cookie dough from the beaters, an old favorite of kids everywhere, can lead to contamination.) Eggs should be cooked thoroughly until the yolk and white are firm.

Staphylococcus aureus (staph) can be found in the nose, throat and hands of healthy people and is transferred through hand contact, sneezing and coughing. Staph thrives on protein-rich foods such as meat, poultry and fish dishes, cream sauces and fillings and puddings. Salads — such as egg, tuna, chicken, potato and macaroni — are frequent sources of staph food poisoning, particularly in warm weather. To prevent the spread of staph, always wash your hands before handling food and use clean utensils. To control bacterial growth, never leave food at room temperature for more than two hours. Food poisoning is caused by ingesting enterotoxins produced when foods have not been kept hot enough (140°F or above) or cold enough (45°F or below).

Clostridium perfringens are found in the soil, in the human intestine and on many foods. The Center for Disease Control estimates that 10,000 cases occur annually in the U.S. Clostridium spread when cooked meat dishes are not kept hot enough and when casseroles and other large dishes of food, as well as gravies, are cooled too slowly. Keep hot foods hot (above 140°F), chill foods quickly and reheat cooked, chilled foods to a minimum internal temperature of 165°F. Caution: Never partially reheat or simply "warm up" large pieces of cooked meat or large pans of food. Go all the way!

Campylobacter jejuni (campy) is the leading cause of bacterial diarrhea in the U.S. It causes more disease than salmonella and shigella (another bacteria that's a cause of severe diarrhea) combined. Campy is found in the digestive tract of animals and can contaminate raw meat and poultry during processing. Campy has also been found in raw milk, untreated water, clams and mushrooms. To prevent poisoning, thoroughly cook all meat, poultry and fish dishes, keep raw animal foods away from other foods and clean mushrooms thoroughly before eating.

Clostridium botulinum is found in the soil, and its spores can be picked up by low-acid vegetables such as corn, green beans, beets and peas. It can cause a severe type of food poisoning resulting from the potent neurotoxin formed during the growth of the organism. The incidence of the disease is low but is worrisome because of the high mortality rate if not treated properly and immediately. Problems occur when these foods are improperly canned and the spores grow. To prevent botulism, follow reliable home canning directions precisely and avoid store-bought foods in swollen or severely dented cans, cracked jars or otherwise suspicious-looking containers. If in doubt, heat food to 176°F for at least 10 minutes to kill the bacteria.




food poisoning,bacteria,salmonella,bacterial,diarrhea
Last updated September 09, 2013

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