Many people are concerned about eating take out or at fast food restaurants because of the danger of food poisoning. It is easy to imagine unhygienic practices and unclean kitchens and project the worst images into our head if we want to! Anyone who has watched an episode of Kitchen Nightmares knows exactly how bad some conditions can get.
But with food poisoning, you are much more likely to be in danger from food prepared in the home than that made by professionals, as health department standards and regulations are actually quite strict. Many home cooks don’t have the necessary knowledge to prepare, cook, store and keep food safe for their families.
Home cooks may, of course, wash hands and surfaces well, but there is still a lot we don’t know about how food poisoning can occur and what we need to do to ensure that the food we eat is safe.
What is food poisoning?
Food poisoning or foodborne illness happens when we eat food that is contaminated by bacteria, viruses, parasites or toxins. These toxins don’t agree with human digestion systems and cause us to be sick, at a minimum causing vomiting and diarrhea and at worst can cause miscarriage in pregnant women and death of the sufferer.
How does food become unsafe?
Some foods naturally contain toxins, others get toxins in them through exposure to different elements in the environment. Food is exposed to toxins at a number of different stages in the growing and preparation stages.
Bacteria or toxins in food or things to watch out for can include:
- coli, Listeria, Salmonella: these are bacteria or viruses which can grow in food if not appropriately washed, cooked or stored and make people very sick. Risky foods include meat, chicken, eggs, dairy, seafood, some packaged goods and some fruit and vegetables including lettuce and melons.
- Wild mushrooms: some of these are poisonous to humans and shouldn’t be eaten
- Mercury: Large fish can have high levels of mercury which is particularly unsafe for children and pregnant women
Tips for making sure that your food handling practices are safe
Follow these tips when preparing, storing and cooking food:
- Thoroughly wash all fruit and vegetables before eating them
- Wash your hands with soap and water before and after food prep, as well in between different steps
- Keep raw meat separate from cooked meat and any vegetables that are going to be eaten fresh like fruit and vegetables in a salad.
- After handling raw meat, wash your hands thoroughly with hot water, and wash any knives or chopping boards before using them for other ingredients
- Don’t store raw meat in your fridge above cooked food or food that will be eaten fresh.
- Eat food within its use by date, and throw out after this.
- Cooked food like take out and leftovers will only safely last a day or two in the refrigerator and must be reheated thoroughly to be eaten.
Understanding safe temperatures
When food is very hot or very cold the bacteria in it is killed and it is generally safe for consumption. When food is kept between these temperatures for too long the bacteria can grow, and this is when we become sick.
Food that has been prepared and then left out at room temperature for a long time, such as in buffets, is where the dangers lie. This includes things containing animal proteins like meat, fish, chicken, eggs, and dairy. Cooked rice can also harbor bacteria.
As a rule, food should not be kept between the temperatures of 40 degrees and 140 degrees for longer than 2 hours and then consumed. Being kept at this temperature for this long has given the bacteria enough time to grow to dangerous levels of consumption.
Food like meat and chicken must be cooked through to an internal temperature of 165 degrees and not eaten undercooked. If food needs to be reheated after refrigeration or defrosting it also needs to be heated to a temperature of 165 degrees.
How to recognize food poisoning when someone has it, and what should you do?
Symptoms of food poisoning include:
- Stomach cramping
- Flu-like symptoms
- Bloody stools
- Dehydration, muscle weakness, and blurred vision
If someone has mild food poisoning this can pass in a day and won’t get worse than vomiting and diarrhea. Treatment can include just keeping hydrated and eating basic food like crackers and ginger ale until it has passed. It is important to replenish your fluids and electrolytes (there are some easy over the counter products to help with this) and avoid most food until you feel more settled.
However, if these symptoms last longer than 3 days, or are accompanied by any other more serious symptoms, you should seek a doctor’s advice. If the sufferer is in a high-risk category, including children, pregnant women, the elderly or people already suffering from chronic illness then don’t wait the 3 days, seek medical attention immediately.
Awesome natural remedies for food poisoning
Ginger has been used for centuries as a natural product to aid digestion. Ginger tea can be great for sufferers of food poisoning or an upset stomach, as can ginger tablets. It helps to settle your stomach and put much-needed nutrients back into your system.
It can also reduce inflammation and pain.
With both antifungal and antibacterial properties, honey is a gorgeous ingredient for treating indigestion. You can swallow a teaspoon of honey or mix in into a hot drink. It helps your tummy to heal and also reduces the amount of acid your stomach is creating.
Apple Cider Vinegar
Don’t be put off by the acidic nature of this ingredient, it has alkaline properties which help line the stomach and settle your belly. You can mix a couple of tablespoons of the vinegar into a cup of hot water and sweeten slightly with honey, then sip this to make you feel better.
Fresh lemon juice is anti-inflammatory, antiviral and antibacterial, meaning it calms the inflammation in your body and kills any bacteria in your system. Drinking a hot honey and lemon drink is another great way to soothe your stomach.
Not just good for keeping vampires at bay, garlic can also reduce your food poisoning symptoms and help your body to get better. It reduces abdominal pain and diarrhea and helps to kill the bacteria in your system.
Cumin seeds can also reduce inflammation; try making a tea by boiling cumin seeds and sipping this slowly until you feel better.
Basil has lovely anti-microbial properties which can also soothe someone suffering from food poisoning. You can chop up basil leaves into plain yogurt and take small portions of this until you feel better.
If you have questions about safe handling of food or naturally treating food poisoning, talk to the expert staff at Eric’s.