Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Think you can tell if you've got food poisoning?

Most of the time, definitely. You're hanging over the can from one of two ends (hopefully it's not both ... or if so, you're bath tub is within range of your projectile vomiting).

Here are some descriptions and symptoms from some of the most common food poisoning culprits.

Escherichia coli
This guy can contaminate all sorts of food. Why? Because transmission is via the fecal-oral route, and that's as disgusting as it sounds. Either food comes in close contact with animal or human waste, or someone preparing your food hasn't washed their hands properly. Yummy, huh? Food poisoning from E. coli isn't felt immediately. The organism needs time (24 to 72 hours typically) to produce the toxins which are going to eventually make you sick. When it does hit though ... expect lots of diarrhea and stomach cramps. Some strains are worse than others, and if the diarrhea turns bloody, you better go seek help.

Salmonella, another nasty little critter. This guy can get into you via the fecal-oral route, but is also a frequent contaminant of chicken. Uncooked eggs, improperly cooked chicken ... can all lead to food poisoning. If you're a lover of reptiles, you better also beware. Salmonella colonizes these guys too, and their poop is loaded with potentially sickening organisms. If you're infected you'll start to feel the effects between 8 to 72 hours after ingestion. Expect stomach cramping and some good old diarrhea. An additional benefits are vomiting and fever.

Staphylococcus aureus
The way I describe food poisoning with S. aureus? A total bitch. If you go out to eat, and get food poisoning with this guy, you might not even make it out of the restaurant before you start hurling. Onset of symptoms can be anywhere from one to six hours. Expect vomiting and severe abdominal cramps. As quickly as it arrives, it'll go just as quickly, usually between an additional one to six hours (if you're particularly lucky, it'll last for 24 hours). Then it's gone. Yay!

Listeria monocytogenes
Try to avoid this guy. It doesn't take many of him to get you sick in the first place (100 cells is often enough to do the job), and when you do get sick you'll probably not remember what you ate that did it. He is also adept at growing in/on refrigerated foods, which means your "ready to eat" foods are great vectors for him to infect. This is why there is a "Zero Tolerance" policy for foods with this guy. Even one organism cultured is enough to send that food into the trash. Soft cheese has a soft spot in this guys heart as well. If you're pregnant, avoid them! In terms of infection/symptoms, this organisms isn't in any sort of rush. Incubation periods can range from 8 days to 8 weeks. When it hits, expect a fever, fatigue/muscle aches, nausea and diarrhea. If, after those symptoms appear, you start getting headaches, stiff neck, start feeling disoriented and confused ... get to a doctor! Listeria can also cause meningitis. It also is fond of causing miscarriages in pregnant women (and 1/3rd of Listeria infections occur in pregnanct women).

Well, those are four common food poisoning organisms. Maybe I'll post more as time permits.

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