Contaminated food and water are major causes of morbidity and mortality in the developing world, particularly among children.1 Even though contaminated foods are responsible for more than half of diarrheal episodes, efforts to prevent diarrheal diseases often overlook food safety. Food safety is at least as important as providing a safe water supply and sanitation services.
Recent changes in human demographics, food preferences, microbial adaptation and lack of support for public health resources have led to the emergence of new as well as established illnesses caused by food contamination and poisoning.2 The very young, the elderly and the immunocompromised people are frequently affected from food-borne illnesses.
Food-borne illness usually arises from improper handling, preparation or storage of food. Food contamination sources include unclean hands, polluted water, flies, pests, inadequately cleaned utensils and an unsanitary environment. Cross-contamination during food preparation (contact between raw and cooked foods) is also responsible for food-borne illnesses.
In many countries, bacterial food-borne infections are the commonest cause of intestinal disease. Salmonella and Campylobacter spp. account for over 90% of all reported cases of bacteria-related food poisoning worldwide.3 The poisoning is caused by toxins released by the microorganisms. These toxins cause inflammation of the stomach and intestines causing the typical gastrointestinal (GI) symptoms.
Symptoms of food poisoning depend on the type and the amount of contaminant eaten. The symptoms can develop rapidly, within 30 min or slowly, worsening over days to weeks. In general, most of the common contaminants cause nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, abdominal cramps and fever.
Food poisoning is usually diagnosed by specific laboratory tests that identify the specific organism which cause the illness. Bacteria such as Campylobacter, Salmonella spp. and E. coli are identified through stool culture. Parasites can be identified through microscopic examination of ova and cysts. Viruses are usually identified by stool samples examination for genetic markers of a specific virus.
Blood cultures should be obtained when bacteremia or systemic infection is suspected. Direct antigen detection tests and molecular biology techniques are available for rapid identification of certain bacterial, viral and parasitic agents.
Many episodes of food poisoning are self-limiting and require only fluid replacement and supportive care. Oral rehydration is indicated for patients with mild-to-moderate dehydration and intravenous therapy may be required for those with severe dehydration.
These include the following:
- Avoid eating for few hours or reduce overall food intake.
- Drink plenty of fluids.
- Avoid milk products, spicy and oily food, alcohol and fresh fruit.
- Recommend the BRAT diet: banana, rice, applesauce and toast.
- Drink ginger tea for indigestion, heartburn and nausea.
- Frequently wash hands, utensils and food surfaces.
- Avoid cross-contamination. Keep raw foods separate from ready-to-eat foods.
- Refrigerate leftovers promptly. Do not let food stand at room temperature.
- Avoid contaminating surfaces and foods with the juices of uncooked meats.
- Do not thaw frozen foods at room temperature.
- Throw away bulging or leaking cans or any food that smells spoiled.
- Sanitize food preparation surfaces regularly.
Food-borne disease reporting is not only important for disease prevention and control, but also allows more accurate assessments of the burden in the community. As infectious diarrhea spreads easily and is highly contagious, appropriate reporting will help in rapid and definitive identification of the etiologic agent and thus, control an outbreak of a disease. Occasionally, reporting may lead to the identification of a previously unrecognized agent of food-borne illness.
Written by: Healthplus24 team
Date last updated: November 09, 2012