Definition of food poisoning
Food poisoning occurs from consuming water or food contaminated with bacteria, viruses, parasites, toxins, etc. In general, food poisoning is harmless and only lasts a few days. However, they can have more serious consequences for certain more vulnerable people. This is particularly the case for infants, young children, pregnant women, the elderly and people whoseimmune system is weakened (e.g. cancer, AIDS, etc.).
Symptoms of food poisoning
The main symptoms of food poisoning include abdominal pain, cramps, diarrhea, vomiting, nausea, fever and headache. Symptoms can occur a few hours after consuming the contaminated food to several days after consumption.
Causes of food poisoning
As mentioned earlier, food poisoning is caused by consuming contaminated water or food. Contamination can occur at all levels of the food chain from farm to table. Common causes of contamination include:
- Undercooking or improper cooling of food.
- Contact between food and unwashed surfaces, utensils or hands.
- Contact between cooked and raw foods.
- Contact between cooked food and utensils, surfaces or hands that have touched raw food. This is called cross contamination.
There are several infectious agents that can cause food poisoning. The following five bacteria are among the most common causes:
- Escherichia coli: Common sources of this bacteria include raw or undercooked meats, raw fruits and vegetables, unpasteurized milk and apple juice, and untreated water.
- Salmonella: This bacterium is present in raw or inadequately cooked poultry, meat, fish and eggs, raw fruits and vegetables, and unpasteurized dairy products.
- Listeria: Common sources of this bacteria are uncured processed meats, unpasteurized dairy products, raw vegetables, and raw or undercooked meat, poultry, and fish.
- Clostridium botulinum: This bacterium is mainly found in improperly prepared preserves and honey.
- Campylobacter jejuni: This bacterium is particularly present in raw poultry, unpasteurized milk and untreated water.
Prevent food poisoning
Food can be contaminated before, during and after preparation. Here are some tips to reduce the risk of food poisoning:
- Wash hands with warm water and soap regularly (e.g. before cooking, after handling raw foods, etc.)
- Choose pasteurized products (e.g. dairy products and apple juice).
- Do not use broken or cracked eggs.
- Do not use bulging, damaged, punctured or leaking cans.
- Defrost food properly. The safest way to thaw food is to place it in the refrigerator ahead of time.
- Separate raw foods from cooked foods.
- Rinse fruits and vegetables well under running water before cutting and eating them.
- If possible use a different board for vegetables and raw meats or wash the board between each use.
- Clean cooking instruments, utensils, work surfaces and counters before and after cooking and when they have been in contact with raw meat.
- Cook food thoroughly, especially meat, poultry, fish and eggs. A cooking thermometer can be useful for checking the internal temperature of cooked foods.
- Refrigerate or freeze leftovers promptly. Leftovers should not stay more than two hours at room temperature. Ideally, store them in the refrigerator in a container with the lid open if they are hot, then close the lid before transferring them to the freezer once they have cooled if they will not be eaten in the next three days.
- Respect food conservation and storage temperatures. The Thermoguide of the Ministère de l'Agriculture, des Pêcheries et de l'Alimentation du Québec (MAPAQ) is a useful tool for knowing the storage times of food in the refrigerator or freezer:https://www.mapaq.gouv.qc.ca/fr/Publications/Thermoguide.pdf.
- Change and wash kitchen towels regularly.
- Do not offer honey to children under one year old.
- Regularly clean reusable grocery bags and lunch boxes.