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Danger Zone for Food Poisoning Bacteria

Updated on May 17, 2014
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Food poisoning what to expect?

Food poisoning is a result of eating bacteria-infected food and affects many people around the world every year. Food may become contaminated through handling, storage or improper preparation. Certain foods have a higher risk of causing food poisoning; many people are considerably more susceptible to food poisoning compared to others.

Food poisoning can cause anything from minor to serious physical discomfort and can cause dehydration for some time.

Minor cases may last several hours or days; however more severe types, like botulism or specific types of chemical-like substance or toxin poisoning, are critical and potentially life-threatening if you do not get medical treatment immediately.

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What Causes Food Poisoning?

Bacterial growth is the primary cause of food poisoning. Those who are sick or infected are possible carriers of staphylococcus bacteria to foods they are preparing. Those who consume contaminated meals or drinking water can get travelers' diarrhea, typically caused by E. coli bacteria. Food poisoning caused by Salmonella bacteria occurs from eating contaminated poultry products like eggs and chicken meat, though, really life threatening, majority of cases produce only mild discomforts. Harmful toxins are produced by bacterial growth in cooked and uncooked meat and fish, milk and dairy foods, and cooked foods left at room temperature for long hours.

Canned foods, particularly food boxes at home, can easily accommodate bacterial build up that requires no air to grow and is not affected by cooking. This type of bacteria can cause botulism, an uncommon but quite deadly food poisoning. Young children may get botulism from eating honey due to their not fully developed digestive systems, not like older people, children are unable to counterbalance these naturally occurring bacteria in the digestive track.

Raw seafood, particularly those contaminated by red tide, may cause food poisoning. Some mushrooms, cherries, or other plants have natural toxins that are harmful to humans and should not be consumed; cassava and potato crops if not prepared correctly can produce harmful toxins. Poisonous mold can grow on badly preserved fruit, vegetables, beans, and nuts. Food poisoning caused by chemical substance is often a result of improper pesticide spray, negligence or by keeping food in unsanitary food boxes.

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High-risk foods

Food contamination may include foods you may not regard as harmful, for example poultry meat or sea foods. Processed fruits and vegetables are usually included in the list of potential sources of food poisoning. Contaminated food will normally give out normal smell and taste. Bacteria that cause food contamination can develop and spread on several types of food more quickly.

Foods with potential risks include:

  • Chicken and turkey meats. Recipes that contain these foods, such as chicken soups, pastel and cheesy chicken enchiladas etc.
  • Milk and dairy foods, like cheese cakes and dairy-based desserts like milk pudding, custard tarts, tiramisu and cheesecake
  • Eggs and egg products, like locally produced yema, pastillas and quiche
  • Small goods such as cured meats, hams, longanisa and salamis
  • Seafood, such as seafood soups, patties, fish fries, stews containing seafood and fish meat
  • Cooked rice and pasta left in room temperature for too long
  • Prepared salads like chicken salads, macaroni salads and rice salads
  • Homemade fruit salads, pasta salads, grains salads, potato salads, cheese salads
  • Ready-to-eat/no cook foods such as canned meats, canned fruits, sandwiches and hamburgers that contain some of the foods above.

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People who are high-risk for food poisoning

Some people tend to be more prone to getting food poisoning than others. Take extra caution when buying, preserving and cooking food for these people. Susceptible people include:

  • Pregnant women
  • Older people
  • Small children
  • People who have chronic health issues

Bacteria that cause food poisoning

Pathogens such as Salmonella, E.coli, Campylobacter, Clostridium perfringens, Aeromonas hydrophila, Bacillus cereu, Escherichia coli O157:H7, Shigella spp, Staphylococcus aureus, Vibrio cholerae, and Listeria are often evident in our food-producing animals. Proper procedure in processing, delivery, storage, preparing and serving of food is important to limit the threat of infections.

Food poisoning bacteria can spread very fast, especially in certain environment. The conditions that benefit bacterial growth are:

  • Time - in an ideal environment, one bacterium can multiply in six hours and produce over 2 million bacteria.
  • Temperature - bacteria grow best in temperature ranging between 5°C and 60°C. This is generally known as the ‘danger zone’. This means we have to keep perishable food to be very hot or very cold, as a way to prevent bacterial growth.
  • Nutrients - almost all foods contain adequate nutrients for bacteria to grow. Generally that's the case with potentially high-risk foods such as dairy, poultry products, meat and seafood.
  • Water - bacteria need water in order to grow and multiply. Without water, growth may delay or stop. That is the reason dried foods have an advantage over moist and fresh ones.
  • pH level - is the acidity level or alkalinity and is usually necessary for controlling bacterial growth. Lower pH levels usually hinder bacterial growth, but if food has a fairly neutral pH, as is true for most foods, nearly all bacteria grow very well.

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Warning signs of food poisoning

The symptoms of food poisoning are different depending on the type of bacteria which causes the infection. Symptoms vary from moderate to very severe. Some can show up shortly after eating, or after a few hours and they can last from a day to a week.

In case you get ill, you will experience the following symptoms:

  • Dizziness
  • Abdominal cramps
  • Diarrhea
  • Vomiting
  • Fever
  • Mild to severe headache

Many food-borne microorganisms trigger different symptoms. Like the genus Listeria which causes miscarriage or meningitis in people who are high-risk. Food poisoning can even result in other constant health problems and conditions.

In case you get food poisoning

If you experience a number of these symptoms and feel you get food poisoning, see your physician immediately. It’s usually recommended that you state your condition to any nearby health center or the Department of Health to make certain that the sources can be inspected. This can be very important in case the illness is traced to eating at a restaurant, diner or cafe, or simply food bought from a store or take-away shop.

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Ways to prevent food poisoning

There are a few basic rules you can adopt to reduce the risk of food poisoning. You need to take measures to:

  • Prevent food from getting contaminated
  • Prevent bacterial growth and spreading

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Avoid food poisoning when shopping for food

Remember these tip whenever you're buying food in the supermarket or in an eatery.

  • Foods that have higher risk of food poisoning must be outside the danger zone. Try to buy frozen and hot foods later in your food buying..
  • Keep a separate fridge shelf for hot and cold food.
  • Always check canned food expiration date.
  • Avoid food in bloated, dented, leaking or spoiled cans, canisters or other packing.
  • Don’t buy frozen foods which have been left out of the freezer for too long, and buy soups that are steaming hot.
  • Check that food servers use separate tongs when handling different food types, for example meats and vegetables.
  • Inspect that food servers wear gloves when they serve the food, but definitely not if they are sanitizing surfaces or receiving money.
  • Know the egg supplier, and do not buy cracked or unclean eggs.
  • Quickly take home the foods you bought, keep it refrigerated and store properly.

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Preparing food to avoid food poisoning

If you're preparing a meal:

  • Clean your hands in warm water and use an antibacterial soap before making meals.
  • Don’t use the same chopping board for cooked and uncooked food and foods that are served raw. This prevents the likelihood of spreading contamination.
  • Keep in mind that most food must be cooked to a temperature not less than 75°C.
  • Use a thermometer when cooking. If you don’t have one, ensure you cook chicken until the meat is white, especially near the bone. In cooking hamburgers, grilled steak, rolled roasts and hot dogs make sure that their juices run clear before serving it. In cooking white fish make sure it’s not glossy, the juice stop dripping and appear opaque outside.

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Storing food properly to avoid food poisoning

When you store food:

  • Always place raw food away from cooked food, like placing raw food at the lower shelf of the refrigerator to prevent juice drip onto and contaminate other food inside the fridge.
  • The ideal fridge temperature is below 5°C and freezer temperature is below -15°C.
  • Before stocking cooked food in the fridge, let it cool to room temperature (roughly 21°C). (It will take less than two hours – try to put hot foods in smaller containers to cool down faster.) This helps prevent the fridge temperature from rising and lower the risk of bacterial build up in all food inside the fridge.
  • Use lids to cover foods, aluminum foil or plastic wrapper.
  • Don't store open canned food inside the fridge.

Points to remember

  • Food-borne bacteria that cause food poisoning can grow extremely fast, particularly under ideal conditions.
  • Pregnant women, small kids, older people and people with health problem are definitely more susceptible to food poisoning.
  • Be mindful in your food preparation, storing or serving meals, in particular the risky foods mentioned above.
  • See your doctor immediately should there be symptoms of food poisoning.

Food Poisoning First Aid

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    • howcurecancer profile image

      Elena@LessIsHealthy 4 years ago

      Great tips! Thanks.

    • ChitrangadaSharan profile image

      Chitrangada Sharan 4 years ago from New Delhi, India

      Very useful information provided by you in this hub!

      I have seen the worst cases of food poisoning in people. It is so scary---Thanks for cautioning others on this subject.

      Well written and well presented!

      Thanks for sharing--voted up!