Food poisoning is a digestive infection caused by the ingestion of food contaminated with bacteria, viruses or parasites.
Nausea, vomiting, abdominal cramps, diarrhea, headache, fever … all this after some harmless bites. According to Health Canada estimates, about 2 million people would suffer from such “food poisoning” every year in the country. Not to mention that young children, pregnant women, the chronically ill, the elderly and those whose immune system is weakened by cancer or HIV are affected much harder.
Most foods contain bacteria. When foods are not properly preserved, bacteria multiply and contaminate them. Almost all foods can cause food poisoning, but some are more risky than others. Meat, poultry, dairy products, fish and raw egg products or meat can cause a lot of discomfort if they are prepared, transported, stored or stored under inappropriate conditions.
The proliferation of bacteria is favored by temperatures in a “danger zone”, that is to say that oscillate between 4 and 60 ° C (40 and 140 ° F), which is why the cases of Food poisoning is more common in summer than in winter.
Most contaminations occur when food is left at these temperatures for more than four hours. In this danger zone, the number of bacteria can double every 15 minutes. Do the math … it’s going fast! It is therefore necessary to be more vigilant during the hot season, by checking more often the thermostat of the refrigerator (between 0 and 4 ° C) and the freezer (-18 ° C), limiting as much as possible the exposure of perishable products to the room temperature and paying particular attention to poultry and ground beef.
Hygiene is a determining factor in contamination. When handling food, you should avoid exposing them to germs that you carry. This is why you should always wash your hands thoroughly with soap and warm water, and avoid blowing your nose or coughing around food. Pets also carry bacteria and therefore should not approach the table or counter during the preparation stages.
Bacteria that cause food poisoning
Four notorious culprits aside from the person who prepared the lunch!
The most common bacterium involved in cases of food poisoning is salmonella. It grows in undercooked poultry, pork, sausage and fish, as well as in raw or undercooked eggs and in cooked foods left unrefrigerated for several hours, in addition to sprouted beans (chop suey) and unpasteurized apple juice. This bacterium is manifested in the body by nausea, abdominal pain, fever, vomiting and diarrhea that begin 8 to 72 hours after ingestion of the food.
Escherichia coli (E. coli O157: H7) is often the source of many food poisoning. And with reason, because it is the big culprit of the “hamburger disease”. It develops in undercooked minced meat or in unpasteurized apple juice. This bacterium causes vomiting and severe diarrhea, sometimes bloody, 5 to 72 hours after ingestion. The symptoms sometimes last a few days and often require hospitalization. Another strain of Escherichia coli, the so-called enterotoxigenic form, often affects travelers, as it is also found in the untreated drinking water of certain southern countries. She is responsible for the turista.
In addition, the lack of hygiene contributes to the contamination of food by Staph, a bacterium that squats the nose, throat and skin of many people and is transmitted by cuts, wounds, burns, scratches and pimples. The most sensitive foods for this bacteria are ham, poultry and dairy products. Unlike salmonella, for example, staph does not directly attack the digestive tract. It does this through a toxin that contaminates food. This is why, in this case, some purists prefer to speak of “food poisoning” (for toxin) rather than food poisoning. Staph thus causes abdominal pain, headache, nausea, vomiting and diarrhea, with short delays ranging from minutes to hours. Shivering, weakness, and vertigo may also follow ingestion.
Another very dangerous but fortunately less common bacterium Clostridium botulinumse spreads in poorly sterilized vegetables, meat and fish. This bacterium causes a rare but fatal form of poisoning, botulism, again here through a toxin that affects the nervous system. The symptoms appear one to eight days after the meal and they are very serious: difficulty swallowing, vision problems, suffocation, difficulty speaking and paralysis.
Food at risk
Eggs: they must always be eaten cooked. Half-cooked, they represent a danger for pregnant women, very young children, the elderly and the sick. Raw eggs encourage the proliferation of salmonella, which also develops in dishes that contain salmon (mayonnaise, hollandaise sauce, mousses), and even more quickly if they are not refrigerated.
Poultry: it should never be thawed at room temperature. Exposed to heat, this fragile meat can be easily infested with microbes. Take the time to defrost in the refrigerator or in cold water and cook until the inside of the chicken reaches at least 85ºC and the meat loses its pinkish hue.
Ground beef: it is very vulnerable to surface bacteria, because they can be easily introduced into the whole mass of meat. Ground meat must always be well cooked and eaten within 24 hours of purchase; otherwise it is more prudent to freeze it immediately. In addition, it should never be thawed at room temperature.
Finally, cooked cereals, puddings, whipped cream, seafood (especially mussels, oysters and shrimp), cooked legumes, sauces, mayonnaise and spreads: these foods are prey to bacteria, if they are not kept at a temperature of less than or equal to 4 ºC.
Safe behavior at the grocery store
You know the enemy and you know where he is hiding, so here’s how to stop him from entering your life:
- Do not buy perishable products if they are not refrigerated.
- Do not buy frosted or thawed products.
- Check the expiration dates on the packages.
- Do not buy bumpy or dusty tinned foods.
- Do not buy foods with damaged packaging or broken safety seals.
- Do not buy bulk products that are not served by an attendant and with clean utensils.
- Place poultry and meat in plastic bags that are different from those that are eaten raw (such as fruits and vegetables) to avoid cross-contamination.
- Your purchases made, go back home quickly. If you have more than an hour to go, store the perishable food in a cooler.
A question of temperature
Regularly check the temperature of the refrigerator and freezer and:
- Keep meat, poultry, seafood and cold cuts in the coldest part of the refrigerator, or freeze them if you plan to eat them only a few days later.
- Put chilled meat packets on a plate or plastic bag to prevent juice or blood from leaking onto other foods.
- Thaw food in a refrigerator, in cold water, or in a microwave oven, and not at room temperature.
- Never refreeze thawed foods unless they have been cooked beforehand.
Take care of leftover food quickly
Do not wait for your guests to leave the remains and:
- Quickly store perishable foods in the refrigerator.
- Cool the leftovers directly in the refrigerator and not on the countertop.
- Store cans in a cool, dry place for up to one year.
- Be sure to rotate the food stored in your cabinets.
A question of hygiene
Wash your hands, cutlery, cooking utensils, soap and hot water after handling poultry or raw meat and:
- Wash your hands again if you blow your nose or go to the bathroom.
- Avoid touching your face, hair, or cigarette.
- Do not take food with your fingers to taste them.
- Use a plastic cutting board instead of wood because it is easier to clean.
Avoid perishable food during picnics
Make sure that no perishable food (especially meat, poultry, fish, mayonnaise, eggs, milk and cream) is kept at room temperature for more than two hours indoors, or less than an hour outside.
- Make sure the dishes that are to be eaten warm are placed on a stove and that their temperature stays above 60ºC.
- Make sure the cold dishes are cold or surrounded by crushed ice.
- Keep your lunch box in a cool place until dinner time.
- Place a frozen juice or ice pack in your lunch box to cool the food.
- Keep the meat sandwiches (especially if it is chopped), poultry and chilled eggs until the moment of the meal.