AVOIDING FOOD-BORNE ILLNESSES

August 6, 2019

AVOIDING FOOD-BORNE ILLNESSES

ThedaCare Provider Explains Importance of Thorough Washing, Cooking and Cooling

APPLETON, Wis. – It’s summertime and many people look forward to spending time outdoors, having picnics with family and friends. While we enjoy these events, it is important to keep food safety in mind.

“It’s a good idea to talk about food-borne illnesses this time of year,” said Abdur Khan, MD, an infectious disease specialist at ThedaCare Physicians-Infectious Diseases Appleton. “We see more food poisoning cases in the summer than most other times of the year.”

Forty-eight million people suffer from food poisoning each year, according to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), with 128,000 of those requiring hospitalization and 3,000 dying from their illnesses.

“Generally speaking, food poisoning can be cured reasonably quickly,” said Dr. Khan. “If not treated quickly, there are some serious diseases one can get from contaminated food. That makes it important for people to seek medical attention if they are sick for more than 24 hours.”

Dr. Khan noted that there are many bacteria, viruses, parasites, as well as harmful chemicals and toxins that may be in food that can cause food-poisoning symptoms. Those symptoms include:

“A normally healthy person between the ages of five to 65 can generally handle the consequences of food poisoning for 24 hours by drinking water or a sports drink which helps replace electrolytes lost by vomiting and diarrhea,” Dr. Khan said. “I would caution against drinking soda as that will worsen the diarrhea.”

There are some who may not recover as quickly. 

“Babies, young children, people who have compromised immune systems or have a chronic disease and those over 65 should seek medical immediate attention,” he said. “This is to prevent dehydration and eliminate the possibility of a more serious infection.”

When a patient has symptoms of food poisoning, Dr. Khan seeks a history of where the person has been lately, what foods they’ve eaten and how soon the symptoms developed after eating.

“That helps us begin to determine what bacteria or virus the person may be suffering from,” he said. “It allows us to build out a treatment plan for each specific person.”

The good news is that food poisoning is generally preventable. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) offers the following suggestions for preparing and eating food in warm weather:

  • Wash hands well and often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds, especially after using the bathroom. Use moist disposable towelettes if water is not available.
  • Wash countertops and cutting boards.
  • Keep raw food separate from cooked food.
  • Marinate food in a refrigerator or cooler; not on the counter. Set aside a portion of the marinade if you plan to pour it over the food after cooking.
  • Cook food thoroughly. Hamburgers should be cooked until brown throughout.
  • Refrigerate or freeze food promptly. Food that needs to be kept cold should not be left out of a cooler for more than two hours, or one hour if the temperature is above 90 degrees F.
  • Keep hot food hot, at a minimum of 140 degrees F. When reheating hot food, make sure it reaches 165 degrees F.
  • Keep cold food cold, at or below 40 degrees F. by storing in a cooler or in bowls of ice water. Replace ice frequently.

Dr. Khan recommends washing fruits and vegetables thoroughly, at least three rinses, before eating or cooking. For fruit, he suggests washing the fruit before cutting or peeling. He noted that melons – cantaloupe, watermelon and honeydews – can become contaminated with bacteria after sitting out for a few hours.

“People may think that melons are safe, but that’s not the case,” Dr. Khan said. He added that rice is another food that can become contaminated easily. “Rice is susceptible to the Bacillus bacteria, which will grow quickly if it is left sitting out.”

Dr. Khan also cautioned against eating raw or rare meat, especially hamburger, drinking unpasteurized milk or undercooked poultry or eggs.

“Those foods can cause salmonella poisoning or enterohemorrhagic e-coli,” he explained. “Both conditions can become serious.”

Dr. Khan identified other common bacteria and viruses that cause food-borne illnesses.

“A common virus is norovirus, which typically develops after eating raw/fresh fruits and vegetables or undercooked shellfish,” he said. “Norovirus outbreaks often occur on cruise ships or in schools where lots of people are gathered.”

When a patient’s symptoms don’t improve after 24 hours, Dr. Khan begins to suspect an infection from bacteria.

“Many bacteria can cause very severe illnesses,” he said. “That’s why I stress that anyone who has been suffering from vomiting or diarrhea for more than 24 hours should see their doctor.”

Lastly, Dr. Khan offered a caution about drinking water, noting that bacteria can be carried by water.

“People who are camping or hiking need to careful when drinking water from lakes and streams,” he cautioned. “They should definitely purify that water before drinking it as giardia is quite common in the summer. You can also get giardia from swimming in a lake or a pool, if it’s not properly treated with chemicals.”

He also offered a caution about drinking bottled water.

“I tell my patients if you don’t hear that ‘clicking sound’ when you open a bottle of water, it may not have been sealed properly,” he said. "Don’t drink it; it may be contaminated.”

He also advised against reusing water bottles to avoid introducing bacteria.

“Summer is a great time to enjoy good food outdoors. It’s also important to be cautious about handling and storing food,” said Dr. Khan. “Under good conditions, there should be no concern about food becoming contaminated. Relax and enjoy the good experience.”

About ThedaCare

For more than 110 years, ThedaCare® has been committed to finding a better way to deliver serious and complex healthcare to patients throughout Northeast and Central Wisconsin. The organization serves a community of more than 600,000 residents and employs more than 6,700 healthcare professionals throughout the regions. ThedaCare has seven hospitals located in Appleton, Neenah, Berlin, Waupaca, Shawano, New London and Wild Rose as well as 31 clinics in nine counties. ThedaCare is the first in Wisconsin to be a Mayo Clinic Care Network Member, giving our specialists the ability to consult with Mayo Clinic experts on a patient’s care. ThedaCare is a non-profit healthcare organization with a level II trauma center, comprehensive cancer treatment, stroke and cardiac programs as well as a foundation dedicated to community service.

For more information, visit www.thedacare.org or follow ThedaCare on Facebook and Twitter.

Media should call Cassandra Wallace, Public Relations Specialist at 920.442.0328 or the ThedaCare Regional Medical Center-Neenah switchboard at 920.729.3100 and ask for the marketing person on call.