By allowing ads to appear on this site, you support the local businesses who, in turn, support great journalism.
Keep food, guests safe over holidays
Health advice
Placeholder Image
There are more than 250 food-borne diseases that may infect a person at any time when contaminated foods or beverages have been ingested or when toxins or chemicals have contaminated food.
These diseases have many different symptoms, so there is no one “syndrome” that is recognizable as food-borne illness. But because most of the diseases or toxins enter the body through the gastrointestinal tract, the first symptoms are most often nausea, vomiting, abdominal cramps and diarrhea. Microbes, however, can spread in more than one way, so we cannot always know for sure when a disease is food-borne. This distinction definitely matters though, because the health department needs to know how a particular disease is spreading so it can take steps to stop it.
The four most commonly recognized food-borne infections are:
1. Campylobacter is the most commonly identified bacterial cause of diarrheal illness in the world. It is a bacterial infection that causes symptoms of fever, diarrhea and abdominal cramps. Eating undercooked chicken or turkey, or other food that has been contaminated with juices dripping from raw poultry is the most frequent source of this infection. Campylobacteriosis is estimated to affect more than 1 million people every year, or 0.5 percent of the population.
2. Salmonella can spread to humans from a variety of different foods of animal origin. It is also a bacterium that is widespread in the intestines of birds, reptiles and mammals. The illness it causes typically includes fever, diarrhea and abdominal cramps. In people with poor underlying health or weakened immune systems, the infections can invade the bloodstream and be life-threatening. A person infected with the salmonella usually has fever, abdominal cramps, and diarrhea beginning 12 to 72 hours after consuming contaminated food. The illness usually lasts four to seven days, and most people recover without antibiotic treatment.
3. E. coli O157:H7 is a bacterial pathogen that has a reservoir in cattle and other similar animals. Illness typically follows consumption of food or water that has been contaminated with microscopic amounts of cow feces. Symptoms usually include a severe and bloody diarrhea with painful abdominal cramps.
4. Norovirus (or calicivirus) is an extremely common cause of food-borne illness, though it is rarely diagnosed, because laboratory tests are not widely available. Norovirus causes symptoms of acute gastrointestinal illness, usually with more vomiting than diarrhea, that resolves within two days. Unlike many food-borne pathogens that have animal reservoirs, it is believed that noroviruses spread from one infected person to another. Infected kitchen workers can contaminate a salad or sandwich if the virus is on their hands. At least 50 percent of food-borne gastroenteritis cases can be attributed to noroviruses.
Thanksgiving will be here in a couple of weeks and Christmas will be here before we know it. To insure holiday meals are safe, follow these tips:
• Never leave food in the car; take it straight home and put it in the refrigerator.
• Buy frozen meat at least four to five days before your event as it takes several days for it to safely thaw out. The best way to thaw frozen foods is on a tray in its original wrapping, in the refrigerator.
• Cook a turkey before stuffing it. If the turkey is stuffed before cooking, some of the stuffing may never get hot enough to kill the bacteria that is normally killed during routine cooking.
• Put leftovers in small containers so they cool quickly in the refrigerator. Leftover turkey should be used within three to four days; stuffing and gravy within one to two days. Bring leftover gravy to a rolling boil before serving.

Ratcliffe is a consultant to the Coastal Health District. You can call her at 876-6399.
Sign up for our e-newsletters