Statistics published by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) show that an estimated one in six people per year will become sick after eating food carrying bacteria. In many cases, outbreaks of particular pathogens lead to hundreds of cases of the illness, some of which will be fatal. Here are six germs that you should know about, along with some tips for staying safe.
A wide variety of Salmonella bacteria can be found in or on raw meat, eggs, and unwashed produce, so it’s no surprise that up to 40,000 people catch salmonellosis each year. Some of the resulting infections are relatively short-lived and cause just a few episodes of diarrhea, but most people are ill for up to a week and experience debilitating stomach pain, tiredness and fever. In rare cases, Salmonella bacteria can travel to major organs through the blood stream, and this complication can be fatal.
To avoid exposure, always keep meat products away from other food, wash your fruits and vegetables before consumption, and only eat fully cooked eggs and meat.
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2. E. coli
Escherichia coli (E. coli for short) bacteria thrive inside mammalian intestines, breeding in farm animals and humans alike. If meat is undercooked, E. coli survives and can make you profoundly ill when you ingest it. Suffers typically experience at least a week of painful diarrhea, stomach cramps and near constant vomiting, but the symptoms can last up to ten days. The most virulent strains can even cause renal failure and bloody diarrhea.
You can protect yourself from this nasty bacterium by ensuring that you eat your meat fully cooked rather than rare. In addition, since fresh produce can also carry E. coli, it should always be thoroughly washed before eating.
If you love seafood, you need to be aware of the dangers posed by Vibrio parahaemolyticus bacteria. Of the 4,500 people who become ill after exposure to this bacterium each year, the vast majority have recently eaten undercooked shellfish, leading to stomach pain, nausea, a fever and diarrhea that persists for around three days. Although unpleasant, sickness resulting from Vibrio bacteria is seldom serious unless you are immunocompromised (as a result of medication or a pre-existing illness).
Cook your seafood if you want to avoid a nasty three-day stay in the bathroom!
Campylobacter jejuni bacteria are carried by cows and chickens, though the bacteria doesn’t lead to any ill effects in these creatures. Back in 2005, a CDC investigation into Campylobacter revealed that almost 50% of raw chicken breasts contained the bacteria. Once Campylobacter passes to humans through meat, signs of campylobacteriosis start to develop within a few days. Most people experience diarrhea, stomach cramps and a high fever for up to a week, and a smaller percentage also suffer from vomiting. The majority recovery well, but babies, pensioners and people with reduced immune system function are at risk of dying from the infection.
Thoroughly cooking your meat can help you avoid campylobacteriosis, but it’s also important to wash your hands with soap and hot water after touching raw meat and to be diligent about cleaning food preparation surfaces.
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Sometimes called winter vomiting bugs, a variety of noroviruses are lurking in contaminated food and drinks. In addition, these viruses are so contagious that they tend to strike everyone in a household after one person has been exposed. Primarily causing gastroenteritis (i.e. stomach and intestinal inflammation), noroviruses typically induce constant vomiting, watery diarrhea, headaches and fevers for 3-7 days. Due to fluid loss, dehydration is a real concern, so if you’re unlucky enough to catch a norovirus then it’s vital to keep trying to sip water to compensate for episodes of diarrhea and vomiting. Some people cannot manage this and must be hospitalized to receive a drip that replenishes fluids.
Some 23 million people suffer from norovirus every year, and the CDC estimates that an average 310 of these cases are fatal. Disinfect all kitchen surfaces on a regular basis and wash your hands throughout the day to cut your risk of catching this pathogen.
Listeria monocytogenes bacteria can be found in both raw and processed foods as well as some water sources, causing vomiting, stomach pains, a moderate to high fever and an intense headache. It is a common germ that causes around 1,600 cases of illness annually, with over 250 of these cases ending in death. Once again, old and young people are more likely to suffer from life-threatening symptoms, and pregnant women (as well as their unborn babies) are particularly at risk. It’s especially important to be aware of Listeria because it can continue to reproduce in refrigerated food, while many other bacteria are stunted by the cold temperatures. If raw meat juice leaks in your fridge, put on a pair of gloves and thoroughly clean the whole area.
In addition, the CDC cautions that you should scrub all fresh produce before eating it, and always throw away meat that has passed its “use by” date (whether you’re dealing with freshly sliced meat or a sealed pack of lunch meat).