Foodborne Illness — What You Need to Know

Sick with Tea

If you’ve been paying attention to the news lately, then you have seen a rash of recalls related to foodborne illness or the potential for foodborne illness. Companies like Tyson or Chipotle Restaurants have instituted recalls or restaurant closures to deal with E. coli problems.

Foodborne illness is a problem caused in the gastrointestinal tract by harmful bacteria, parasites, viruses or chemicals. The most common type of foodborne illness is due to the E. coli bacteria. These contaminations cause illness in 48 million people each year in the United States, resulting in close to 3,000 deaths. Here are a few things you should know about foodborne illnesses.

What Causes Foodborne Illness?

Foodborne illness occurs whenever disease-causing organisms are not eliminated from the food supply. There are several types of disease-causing organisms, including botulism, E. coli, hepatitis, noroviruses, Staphylococcus and others. When food is consumed, each type of bacteria takes a period of onset to infect an individual. Foodborne illnesses can occur in several types of food including, meat, poultry, milk, canned vegetables, produce, drinking water, eggs and shellfish. Knowing how to cook food properly can help eliminate some bacteria, but in raw foods, bacteria may still exist.

Symptoms and Complications of Foodborne Illness

Symptoms of foodborne illness or food poisoning include diarrhea, general malaise or uneasiness, nausea, vomiting, fever and abdominal pain or cramping. Many of these symptoms take a few days to occur. Some symptoms only happen when certain bacteria is consumed. Continued symptoms can lead to complications.

Complications from foodborne illness include kidney problems, brain and nerve damage, chronic arthritis and sometimes death. One in six Americans will get sick from foodborne illness, and most of these individuals do not suffer long-term problems due to this illness. In some circumstances, however, problems do arise. Seeking assistance from a physician to deal with any complications due to foodborne illness is recommended.

Treatments for Foodborne Illness

If you develop a foodborne illness, there are a number of treatments that can be employed to help you deal with the ailment. First, it is recommended that you rest and get plenty of water. Anti-diarrhea medicines can also help the symptoms to subside. If your symptoms do not improve within 48 hours or you have severe abdominal pain or bloody diarrhea, it is recommended that you seek emergency assistance.

How to Prevent Foodborne Illness

Preventing foodborne illness is the preferred approach to managing the problem. The Food & Drug Administration has issued new rules designed to prevent foodborne illnesses. These rules set safety standards for farmers and producers to follow that will prevent problems before they occur. The rules are a part of the Food Safety and Modernization Act, which was passed in 2011.

The standards set by this act also apply to imported goods. This adds an additional measure of safety, since about 52% of fresh fruit and 22% of fresh vegetables consumed by Americans are from global sources. The plan is to require safety audits of these foreign foods, which will aid in foodborne illness prevention efforts.

Experiencing health problems due to foodborne illness is uncomfortable. Although these problems are not typically life-threatening, they can cause severe discomfort. Knowing the potential risk for foodborne illness and how to prevent it can help to alleviate anxiety when preparing and consuming food.

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