Food Poisoning - Description

Each year, millions of people suffer from bouts of vomiting and diarrhea that they blame on "something I ate." These people are usually correct. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimate that anywhere from six to thirty-three million cases of food poisoning occur in the United States each year. Many cases are mild. They pass so quickly that they are never diagnosed. On occasion, a severe outbreak affects a number of people. Newspapers, radio, and television may report on the outbreak.

Many kinds of food poisoning are caused by bacteria. The most common of these bacteria are Salmonella (pronounced SAL-mo-nel-uh), Staphylococcus aureus (pronounced STAFF-uh-lo-kock-us AW-ree-us), Escherichia coli O157:H7 (pronounced ESH-ur-ick-ee-uh KO-lie), Shigella (pronounced shih-GEL-uh), and Clostridium botulinum (pronounced klos-TRID-ee-um BOTCH-u-line-um). The pattern of disease caused by each type of bacterium is slightly different. Most of them cause inflammation of the intestines and diarrhea. Clostridium botulinum is an exception.

Food and water can also be contaminated by other agents, such as viruses, heavy metals (such as lead, cadmium, and mercury), and poisons produced within the food itself. Mushroom and shellfish poisoning, for example, are caused by poisons produced within the food itself.

Careless food handling creates conditions for the growth of bacteria that make people sick. Food can be contaminated at many different points during its trip from farm to table. Vegetables that are eaten raw, such as lettuce, may be contaminated by bacteria in the soil in which they were grown. They can also be contaminated during washing and packing. Home canning can also lead to food poisoning. Foods may be cooked at too low a temperature or for too short a time. Bacteria may not be killed.

Raw meats carry many bacteria that can cause food poisoning. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) estimates that at least 60 percent of all raw poultry sold to consumers carries some disease-causing bacteria. Other raw meat products and eggs are also contaminated, but to a lesser degree. Thorough cooking kills these bacteria and makes the food harmless. However, properly cooked food can become recontaminated. It may come into contact with plates, cutting boards, counter tops, and utensils that have not been properly cleaned.

C. botulinum:
A very deadly bacteria that causes a disease known as botulism.
Campylobacter jejuni ( C. jejuni ):
A bacteria that is the leading cause of bacterial diarrhea in the United States. It occurs in healthy cattle, chickens, birds, and flies.
Salts and minerals present in the body that produce electriallcy charged particles (ions) in body fluids. Electrolytes control the fluid balance in the body and are important in muscle contraction, energy generation, and almost all major biochemical reactions in the body.
Escherichia coli ( E. coli ):
A bacteria that commonly causes food poisoning, most often from food products derived from cows, especially ground beef.
Blood cells needed to help blood clot.
A bacteria that commonly causes food poisoning, most often from poultry, eggs, meat, and milk.
A bacterium that grows well in contaminated food and water, in crowded living conditions, and in areas with poor sanitation. It is transmitted by direct contact with an infected person or with food that has been contaminated by an infected person.
Staphylococcus aureus:
A bacteria that causes food poisoning, commonly found on foods that are kept at room temperature.

Cooked foods can also become contaminated in other ways. There are disease-causing bacteria everywhere in the environment. For example, experts estimate that half of all healthy people have the Staphylococcus aureus bacterium in their nasal (nose) passages and throat and on their skin and hair. These bacteria are easily transferred to food. A food handler may rub a runny nose and then touch freshly cooked food. Bacteria grow well at room temperature. They will rapidly reproduce to a level where they can make people sick. To prevent this growth, food must be kept hot or cold, but never just warm.

The food supply in the United States is probably the safest in the world. Still, anyone can get food poisoning. Serious outbreaks are rare. When they do occur, they strike some groups of people harder than others. The very young, the very old, and those with weakened immune systems are especially at risk. For example, people in these categories are twenty times more likely to become infected with the Salmonella bacterium than the general population.

People who travel outside the United States also have a greater chance of getting food poisoning. In many countries, less attention is paid to sanitation, water purification, and good food handling procedures. People living in institutions such as nursing homes are also more likely to get food poisoning.

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