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Tips to avoid food poisoning

Food poisoning in summer: this is how you can prevent it

Food is essential for our life. Through it we can extract the energy necessary to develop our activities and we can also obtain the materials that allow us to repair our body and grow. However, it can also pose a risk by introducing substances that can harm us through food. Infectious organisms such as bacteria, viruses and parasites, as well as their toxins, can take advantage of the ingestion of food to enter our body and cause what is known as food poisoning.

Infectious organisms or their toxins can contaminate food at any time during processing or production. If food is handled or cooked incorrectly, contamination can also occur at home. High temperatures are a factor that directly influences these poisonings, because they favor the development of microorganisms and it is also more difficult to preserve food at the appropriate temperature when eaten outside the home.

“Microorganisms are living beings that need food, which serves as a vehicle and habitat, to provide them with favorable conditions such as availability of nutrients, adequate temperature and a non-aggressive environment (conditions of acidity, salinity, humidity). With these favorable conditions, if we give them the necessary time, they will reproduce and may reach doses that are dangerous to health," explains Dr. Ana Isabel Sánchez, member of the Nutrition Area of ​​the Spanish Society of Endocrinology and Nutrition (SEEN).

What is food poisoning?

Food poisoning is a disease that is caused by the ingestion of foods with the presence of pathogenic germs or their toxins, viruses or parasites. Although we generally talk about food poisoning, we must keep in mind that we are actually talking about three different types of illness:

  • Infection: is when its origin occurs due to the ingestion of bacteria or viruses that take advantage of food to enter our body. Examples of infection are salmonellosis or hepatitis A.
  • Intoxication: in this case the disease is caused by the toxins previously formed in the food. Botulism and gastroenteritis are some cases of poisoning.
  • Infestation: this is when parasites enter our body through food in specific phases of their evolutionary cycle. Some known examples of infestation are trichinellosis, a disease caused by a nematode, a type of worm, which enters our body in the form of larvae when consuming meat, or anisakiasis, which is also an infestation caused by a nematode, in in this case anisakis, from consuming raw fish.

What are the symptoms of food poisoning and which are the most common?

The symptoms of food poisoning are:

  • Nausea.
  • Vomiting.
  • Diarrhea.
  • Abdominal pain and cramps.
  • On occasion it can cause fever.

According to a report by the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA), the most common foodborne illnesses are:

  • Campylobacter: a disease caused by a bacteria that is contracted when eating contaminated food, especially poultry that is undercooked or raw. You can also become infected by drinking contaminated water or raw milk, or handling animal waste.
  • Salmonellosis: it is also a disease caused by a bacteria, Salmonella, which generally lives in the intestines of animals and humans and is expelled through feces. The most common form of infection in humans is through contaminated water or food, usually beef, poultry, eggs or milk.
  • Yersiniosis: again a disease caused by a bacteria, Yersinia. Animals are the main source. Fecal waste, especially from pigs, can contaminate water, milk and food. The germ has been found in pig intestines, raw milk, lakes, streams, improperly pasteurized chocolate milk, tofu, shellfish, wild and domestic animals.
  • Escherichia coli: is the name of a type of bacteria that lives in the intestine and most of them do not cause problems. But some types can make you sick and cause diarrhea. One of them is the cause of traveler's diarrhea. The worst type of Escherichia coli causes hemorrhagic diarrhea and can sometimes cause kidney failure and even death.
  • Listeriosis: It is an infection that can occur when eating foods contaminated with the Listeria bacteria. Vegetables, meats and other foods can become infected with the bacteria if they come into contact with contaminated soil or manure. Raw milk or products made from it can carry these bacteria.

Recommendations to avoid food poisoning

Regarding advice to avoid suffering from food poisoning, the specialist reminds us of the importance of taking into account the 'Golden Rules' of the World Health Organization (WHO) to ensure proper handling and conservation of food. These recommendations include consuming foods that have been treated or handled hygienically.

Dr. Ana Isabel Sánchez insists that “you should not drink raw milk without prior heat treatment. Meats, fish and baked goods should be refrigerated or frozen. In catering establishments, the use of egg products is mandatory in the preparation of dishes with raw eggs such as mayonnaise, sauces, creams, etc., in which the temperature does not reach 75 °C. If these foods are prepared at home, they should be consumed immediately or kept cold and discarded leftovers.”

Likewise, it is necessary to cook foods of animal origin correctly, since they can be contaminated by microorganisms and, in addition, the food must be eaten shortly after cooking. On the other hand, the endocrinologist maintains that it is vital to properly preserve cooked foods and indicates that if they cannot be finished immediately or if they want to save leftovers, they should be kept refrigerated at a maximum of 5°C or frozen.

Dr. Sánchez Marcos also highlights the importance of heating cooked foods sufficiently, as well as avoiding contact between raw and cooked foods. “Cooked food can be recontaminated by contact with raw food or with objects that have previously contacted raw food (knives, boards, surfaces, rags, etc.). The kitchen cloth or cloth can be a vehicle for contamination, so it is preferable to use kitchen paper,” he explains.

Other precautions to adopt are proper hygiene for the person who is going to handle the food and adequate cleaning of all kitchen surfaces, as well as keeping food out of the reach of insects, rodents and pets. Finally, the specialist emphasizes that you should only use drinking water and avoid eating perishable foods exposed to room temperature.

In most cases, food poisoning is mild and goes away without treatment, although some people require going to the hospital. For this reason, the endocrinologist recommends consulting the doctor when some alarm symptoms occur, such as frequent episodes of vomiting and inability to tolerate liquids, vomit or bloody stools, diarrhea for more than three days, extreme pain or intense abdominal cramps, fever (temperature above 38°C), signs or symptoms of dehydration (excessive thirst, dry mouth, little or no urine, severe weakness, dizziness or lightheadedness). If home treatment is needed, the specialist argues that it may consist of replacing lost fluids, antibiotics in some cases and warns that antidiarrheal medications should not be taken without a medical prescription since they can aggravate the condition.


"Because prevention is better than cure"

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