By Kinga Aitken Baboczi MD MPH
Let`s have a mental exercise. Have you ever had diarrhea, vomiting, fever, chills and abdominal discomfort? I`m sure you have. How many times did you think that your symptoms might have been caused by the last dish you ate? The assumption that your last meal is to blame for your foodborne illness is often false.
According to the WHO (World Health Organization) foodborne illnesses are “one the most widespread health problems and an important cause of reduced economic productivity”. Singapore is known to be one of the safest countries in terms of food. However, foodborne illnesses still represent a public health burden.
Most foodborne illnesses are caused by bacteria (e.g. E. coli, Salmonella) and viruses (e.g. Hepatitis A, Norovirus), especially in developed countries. Rarely, parasites and chemicals can be the cause of illness.
The symptoms occur from a few hours to a few weeks after the consumption of a contaminated food or drink. Anyone can be affected by these diseases, but certain groups such as infants, pregnant women or immunocompromised individuals are more prone to severe symptoms and complications therefore they will need medical assistance.
Even if the symptoms are extremely uncomfortable and you are miserable for a couple of days, if your immune system is intact you will usually recover without treatment and complications. Hydration is the key. Drink lots of water and sports drinks! Imodium and Pepto-Bismol can help control diarrhea in adults.
How are these bugs getting into our food supply?
If you usually purchase raw meat (poultry, beef, fish and shellfish), unpasteurized milk and dairy products, eggs and fresh produce they might already be contaminated with harmful bacteria. Bacteria can contaminate food during any of the production phases. Food can also be contaminated through improper handling and preparation in restaurants or even in your own kitchen.
What can be done?
- Before cooking make sure that all your utensils, surfaces and your hands have been thoroughly washed, disinfected and are clean.
- Keep raw foods separate from cooked foods in order to avoid cross contamination.
- Organize your refrigerator: meats should go on the lowest rack; produce, deli and other ready to eat items should go above. This measure prevents meat juices from dripping on ready to eat food items and items that will be consumed raw.
- Designate a cutting board for meats only.
- Wash hands after handling raw foods of animal origin.
- Cook foods thoroughly to kill bacteria and viruses.
- In order to keep bacteria from multiplying keep cold foods cold, below 40 degrees and hot foods hot, above 140.
- Use a food thermometer.
- Leftovers should be refrigerated immediately and discarded if they have been out for longer than 4 hours.
- Don`t cook food for others if you are sick.