Sunday, 24 August 2014

Don’t poison your food

Wash hands thoroughly with soap before and after handling food. – Filepic

Wash hands thoroughly with soap before and after handling food. – Filepic

Food poisoning is a real and ever present danger, and mishandling of food and hygiene issues are usually the leading causes.

THESE days, eating out is the norm for many a working person and food gourmet. Whether it’s meals from hawkers, fast food outlets, restaurants or even from home, many of us have succumbed to food poisoning some time or another.

Food poisoning, simply put, is an illness caused by consumption of contaminated food or water. In most cases, the food is contaminated by some form of bacteria, virus, parasite or toxins.

Every now and then, we have outbreaks in various parts of Malaysia, and we all know too well the story of how they originate – mishandling of food and negligence coupled with lack of hygienic practices which may occur at the time of food production to processing, transport and preparation.

Common culprits

Bacteria accounts for most food poisoning cases. However, viruses, parasites and even moulds can also be responsible.

Let’s take a look at some common culprits with rapid-symptom onset:

·Salmonella – common cause of hospitalisation, and sometimes, death. The pathogen is usually found in unpasteurised milk and undercooked poultry and poultry products such as eggs.

Even contaminated utensils can transfer Salmonella to other foods. Symptoms appear one to three days after infection, with diarrhoea, vomiting and fever.

·E.coli O157:H7 – Found in undercooked ground beef, unpasteurised milk and apple cider, alfalfa sprouts and contaminated water. Can spread through unwashed hands after visiting toilets or handling baby diapers. Symptom onset occurs one to eight days after infection, with diarrhoea and occasional bloody stools.

·Campylobacter – Sources of infection include meat or poultry that has been contaminated by animal faeces, unpasteurised milk and contaminated water. Symptom onset occurs two to five days after infection, with diarrhoea and occasional bloody stools.

·Norovirus and Rotavirus– Most commonly found in raw and ready-to-eat shellfish from contaminated waters. It can also spread via infected food handlers. Symptom onset occurs 12-48 hours after infection.

·Staphylococcus aureus – Found in meats, unpasteurised milk and cheese products. Infection usually involves food that is prepared by hand, such as salads, cream sauce or cream-filled pastries. Symptom onset is usually one to six hours after exposure.

·Shigella – Found in seafood, raw foods and water. Can be spread by infected food handlers. Symptom onset occurs one to two days after, with watery diarrhoea and occasional bloody stools.

·Clostridium botulinum – Found in contaminated canned or bottled food, smoked or salted fish. Symptom onset is usually 12-72 hrs with diarrhoea, vomiting and nerve paralysis.

·Amatoxins – These are found in wild mushrooms. Symptoms include vomiting, diarrhoea, neuromuscular disturbances, fits and coma.

When should we see a doctor?

Usual symptoms of food poisoning are nausea, vomiting, watery diarrhoea (sometimes with bloody stools) and abdominal cramps, with or without fever. Mild to moderate symptoms usually resolve around 24-48 hours without specific medical treatment.

However, you should immediately see a doctor if you have:

·Prolonged diarrhoea of more than 48-72 hours.

·Dizziness and a fever of more than 38°C.

·Extreme pain, severe abdominal cramps.

·General feeling of weakness.

·Decreased/lack of urination.

·Incessant vomiting and inability to tolerate fluids leading to dehydration with dry mouth and thirst.

·Blood in stools.

·Neurological symptoms such as blurred vision, muscle weakness and tingling sensations.

It is disconcerting to note that the incidence of food poisoning is alarmingly high, reported to be 44.9 per 100,000 of the population in 2012.

In fact, it is the most common cause of food and water-borne diseases in Malaysia

Food poisoning should not be taken lightly as it can be fatal. So what can we do about it and how can we act to protect ourselves?

The “Look, Smell, and Taste” campaign launched by the Health Ministry in 2010 is a great general rule-of-thumb people can use to assess both food prepared at home and in restaurants or stalls.

Look – You can spot a dirty and unhygienic venue – flies, lack of clean water and general cleanliness of food handlers. These are the things to look out for. Practise common sense.

Smell – Spoilt food has an unusual odour, mostly foul-smelling and sometimes pungent or sourish. If you think your food smells even slightly like it shouldn’t, it isn’t wise to eat it.

Taste – Taste a little of your food first using the tip of your tongue. If it tastes bad, undercooked or spoilt, you should not eat it.

Tips to handle your food properly

·Wash hands thoroughly with soap before and after handling food.

·Wash/thaw raw food (meat, poultry, etc) with clean water.

·Keep the vicinity of your kitchen clean and organised.

·Use different cooking utensils, boards, etc when cooking different foods, especially raw meat, poultry or fish. This is to avoid cross-contamination.

·Maintain good overall personal hygiene (i.e. short tidy hair, trimmed nails).

·Keep raw food away from cooked foods.

·Cooked and ready-to-eat foods should be handled using utensils such as spoons or spatulas instead of bare hands.

·Store foods in safe places, protected from flies and insects, and in cool temperatures as warm temperatures facilitate rapid multiplication of bacteria.

Better decision-making on our part as well as a heightened sense of awareness, coupled with proper know-how of hygienic practices is all that we need to help us significantly reduce the chances of food poisoning.

This article is courtesy of the Vitagen Healthy Digestion Programme. Datin Dr Liew Yin Mei is a consultant physician and member of the Digestive Health Advisory Board. The author does not endorse any brands or products. For free digestive health info guides or more information, contact 03-5621 1408.

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