Avoiding food poisoning

ch-churning food.

Victims contract food-related illnesses from eating food:

1. Hosting pathogens,
2, Hosting toxins produced by microorganisms, or
3. Containing inherent toxins.

Salmonella, Campylobacter jejuni, Listeria and Escherichia coli belong in the first category. Cooks who don't scrub themselves, kitchen utensils and kitchens adequately after handling infected meat and eggs transfer Salmonella even to people passing up m eat and eggs. Eating undercooked egg dishes, like custard and Caesar salad dressing, can result in Salmonellosis, too. Australians reported 6,139 Salmonellosis cases last year. Campylobacter, also ladled out to non-meat eaters through cross-contamination , increased with 13,516 cases in 2000. Listeria, infecting 48% more people this past year than in 1991, is introduced to unsuspecting palates through food fouled with soil, sewage, manure and dirty stream water. Escherichia coli, or "traveller's diarrhoe a," arises from crunching contaminated raw veggies and drinking tainted water, apple juice and unpasteurised milk.

Staphylococcus aureus, Clostridium botulinum, Bacillus cereus and Ptomaine run with the second gang of villains. These enterotoxin-producing bacteria create poisons in people's intestines. Seemingly healthy individuals can harbour Staph and cross-contami nate food they touch. Improper home-canning methods and allowing low-acid cooked foods (potatoes, for example) to languish at room temps too long invites Botulism to supper. Bacillus cereus, another enterotoxin factory, thrives on cooked rice, potatoes a nd pasta. Produce, such as mushrooms, with evidence of decay can host Ptomaine.

And finally, some nasties in the plant kingdom are naturally toxic if eaten incorrectly. Rather than striking ingredients rich in vitamins, minerals and amino acids off your list, learn the sources of toxicity to avoid illness. Fava and lima beans, eaten raw, are toxic. Gyromitra esculenta ("false morel") mushrooms, safe dried, soaked and cooked, are culinary catastrophes eaten raw as are some other mushrooms. Potatoes sprouting roots and green potatoes are baddies. Rhubarb leaves contain oxalic acid, p oisonous in certain quantities, but leaf ribs, shoots and stalks are munchable. Raw taro and taro leaves are taboo. Tomato seed sprouts and leaves are off-limits.

NAUSEA, FEVER, DIARRHOEA... WHAT TO DO?

The severity and type of symptoms depend on the causes of food-related illnesses, quantity of toxins ingested and victims' physical conditions. Olympian Michael Johnson won gold in '92 in spite of being sidelined for some time by food poisoning. A weaker person would've suffered more.

Symptoms include headache, queasiness, cramps, chills, weakness, fever, vomiting, diarrhoea, and in severe cases, death. Because symptoms sometimes don't set in for up to four days after eating spoiled food, illness is frequently misattributed to flu.

Fortunately, Mother Nature bestowed us with homeostatic mechanisms and know-how to avert after dinner disasters. Vomiting and diarrhoea are the body's way of flushing toxins out, so don't take antiemetics or antidiarrheals for 24 hours after consuming ba d food. Inducing vomiting is normally safe in cases of ingesting contaminated food and toxic plants. A finger or smooth-handled wooden spoon tickling the back of the throat is enough to stimulate the gag reflex. Drink fluids to prevent dehydration. When the stomach settles, eat bland foods for a day.

GO FOR THE GOLD, NOT THE MOULD

Micro-organisms are omnipresent. These odourless, invisible opportunists procreate as quickly as possible whether it's on exotic fruit served at a holiday resort, rice at a posh restaurant, berries at the store, or tomatoes in your fridge.
Traveller's diarrhoea, cholera, typhoid, hepatitis A and other diseases are caught from contaminated food and water. Prevention is the best insurance for healthy travel. Wash your hands before eating. For fruits and veggies remember: Boil it, cook it, pe el it or forget it. Don't eat stale, congealed, dried out or limp food. Eat fresh, thoroughly cooked food that's steaming hot. Use disposable chopsticks rather than re-used ones. The locals are immune to microscopic life-forms present in drinking water: newcomers aren't. Drink bottled, boiled or treated water.

Domestic travellers trekking a few kilometres to fill up shouldn't be cavalier about health. Steer clear of eateries where cross-contamination can occur- a deli where the same fork is used to stab chicken and beetroot. One drop of chook juice contaminate d with Campylobacter jejuni can make you sick. Consume take-away food right away and doggie-bagged leftovers within 24 hours. Walk out of dirty restaurants. Eat elsewhere or pick up supper at the supermarket.
Armed with good-food sense, you won't bag bellyaches at the check-out line. Don't buy products in swollen or dented tins, as this might be evidence of Clostridium botulinum.

Don't chuck leaky containers, ripped packages, cracked eggs, frozen food that thawed, unchilled dairy products, or mouldy, discoloured items in your trolley. Buy perishable foods last before heading directly home.

To maintain a food-safe home set the fridge to 4 degrees C or less and the freezer to minus 18 degrees C or thereabouts. (Freezing delays bacteria growth until they thaw.) Launder dishcloths and tea towels often. Let washed dishes air-dry. Clean the frid ge, cupboards, shelves and microwave. Wash produce fertilized with animal poo to avoid Listeria.

Thoroughly cook eggs to prevent Salmonellosis. Stir or rotate microwaved food until piping hot throughout. Keep hot food hot; cold food cold. Set food out at mealtime, not far in advance. Follow home-canning instructions scrupulously. If in doubt, throw it out.

Preventing food-related illnesses is doubly important for pregnant women, infants, children, the elderly and people with weakened immune systems.

This vulnerable group not only experiences worse symptoms from crook food than robust people, they also suffer complications spurred by food-related illnesses.

Although the majority of gastrointestinal misery originates from meats, with poultry topping the pecking order of dodgy tucker, vegetarians and vegans aren't exempt. Follow preventive measures, and good food gone bad won't sideline you.

RECOMMENDED READING

Food Poisoning Prevention Envirohealth, P.O. Box 6093, Central Queensland Mail Centre, Queensland 4702 Phone: 07 4928 4657
Fax: 07 4928 8135
Email: support@envhealth.com.au
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By Beth Fowler

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