Are you at risk from food poisoning?

Are you at risk from food poisoning?

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There are a number of risk from food poisoning, which can come from a number of sources. The three main sources are biological, chemical and physical forms of contamination. The most common of these are biological. And specifically bacteria.

Those at most risk from food poisoning :

  • Small children/ babiesChildren and babies are at risk of food poisoning which is usually due to underdeveloped immune systems and a tendency to put anything in their mouths. Children like to explore their surroundings and will handle any object that is within their grasp. The risk with this is that they more than likely contain bacteria which then enter the child’s digestive system. Once there they thrive and infect this area which leads to illnesses such as food poisoning.
  • Pregnant momsPregnancy takes a toll on your body, draining resources and nutrients which go to our unborn child. This drain lowers the immune system.
  • The elderlyOlder people are at high risk of food poisoning, mainly due to the fact that their immune systems are less capable of dealing with illness and disease. Older people often suffer from a chronic disease which can increase the risk of food poisoning.
  •  Immunocompromised, especially HIV infections and cancer patients.This means that the immune system is less able to fight off bacteria which cause disease and infection. Individuals in this category have the greatest risk of severe illness and death from food poisoning.

These individuals fall into what is known as the “high-risk” population. This is because each person in these categories does in one way or another have lower immune systems than the general population. This is mostly a natural occurrence, especially in cases of babies, which lend their immune system from their mothers in the first few days of life. 

In addition to this, remember that our internal flora is more unique than a fingerprint. This means that you could be uniquely susceptible to the risk of food poisoning more so than others, and it could simply be due to the different composition of the bacteria in your gut.

Which foods are the most common food poisoning causes?

The foods most often involved in cases of food poisoning are vegetables (cucumber), dairy (unpasteurised milk), fruits (non-acidic) and poultry, beef, eggs and pork.

Raw meats and vegetables are by nature non-sterile foods, which is why we need to cook them. To rid them of bacteria. This is why cooking foods completely, is one of the main measures to preventing food poisoning.

We are often asked the question “why do we not get sick at home and why is it always at a restaurant?” Simply the reason for this occurrence is related to volume, in other words, the amount of food being prepared at one time as well as the preparation time which is the amount of time it takes to prepare the volume of food.

risk from food poisoning pie chart
Pie chart showing percentage breakdown of food poisoning and where it has occurred.

This pie chart shows the percentage of occurrence (where contamination occurred) in reported food poisoning cases. What’s interesting to note, is that 22% of reported cases occur from production, a staggering 52% occurred from the restaurants, 18% actually occurs from home and 4% occurs in schools an additional 4% is unknown sources.

When considering those at risk of food poisoning, it is surprising that only 18% of food poisoning occurs at home. Where pregnant women tend to be more conscious of what they eat and are more likely to prepare their own foods. The elderly are often budget conscious and eat out less. And those severely ill, tend to stay at home. There is also an increasing trend of consumers favouring more ready-made meals from retail outlets that there are restaurant attendees.

If I’m in the high-risk population, how do I prevent food poisoning?

If you find yourself in the high-risk population, you’ll need to be extra careful when food is prepared. These basic principles will help you reduce your risk of food  poisoning:

  • Washing your hands between handling raw foods
  • Cleaning and sanitising surfaces, knives and cutting boards after handling raw foods.
  • Storing foods safely in the fridge.
  • Cooking raw foods completely.
  • Avoiding high-risk foods as much as possible.

Best tips to be aware of:

  • There are many possible causes of food poisoning: bacteria, chemical and physical.
  • Food poisoning is especially dangerous for infants, young children, elderly people, those with chronic health conditions, and people with weak immune systems.
  • Many types of food poisoning cause nausea, vomiting, diarrhoea, and stomach pain.
  • The most common types of food poisoning in the U.S. include Norovirus, Salmonella, Clostridium , and Campylobacter. The most dangerous types of food poisoning include Listeriosis and botulism.
  • Some foods are poisonous. Examples include some kinds of mushrooms and certain kinds of fish and nuts.
  • Consumers can prevent much food poisoning by carefully handling the food that they buy, prepare, and serve.
  • Someone with vomiting and diarrhoea needs to drink plenty of fluids to stay hydrated. Or seek medical attention.

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