From Preparation to Storage
They’re crawling all over you. Microbes — bacteria, archaea, fungi, parasites and viruses — are everywhere. They account for 1% to 3% of your body weight, and most help your body perform vital functions.
However, some microbes are harmful. They can cause food poisoning that leaves you out of commission for a day, or even send you to the emergency department.
“The most common foodborne illnesses are due to bacteria, parasites and viruses,” says Northwestern Medicine Infectious Disease Physician Michael P. Angarone, DO. “You typically can contract them in two ways:
Eating food that’s been contaminated at its source, or eating food that’s been contaminated during preparation.”
As a physician who specializes in infectious diseases, Dr. Angarone is well acquainted with the kinds of bacteria that give one in six Americans food poisoning each year.
While symptoms will vary based on the type of microbe culprit, the most common symptoms of foodborne illness include:
- Abdominal pain
Most often these symptoms resolve within 12 to 48 hours; however, if your symptoms persist or worsen, see a physician or go to the emergency department for care. Certain strains of bacteria, such as E. coli 0157:H7, can cause hemorrhagic, or bloody, diarrhea. It also can produce toxins that can lead to kidney failure. This foodborne illness can be deadly in more vulnerable populations, such as young children and people of advanced age.
You can prevent food poisoning by:
- Thoroughly cooking or reheating your food before you eat it to kill any harmful bacteria
- Properly storing food so that you prevent bacteria from growing
- Not eating food that’s been sitting at room temperature for a prolonged period
- Not preparing food for anyone if you are sick
- Keeping your cooking area clean
- Avoiding cross-contamination between raw meat, poultry and seafood and fresh produce.
Here’s what you need to know about foodborne illnesses in just a few bites.