Labor Day Weekend is coming up and there is no better way to savor the fleeting summer sunshine than with a delicious cookout.  Whether you are hosting your own BBQ or bringing your signature dish to a friend’s house, it is important that you follow food safety guidelines.  This is part 1 of a week-long series that will look at common food poisoning culprits, easy ways to avoid them, and tasty recipes that you can safely and confidently serve to your friends and family.

One in six Americans or 48 million people will get sick from a foodborne illness this year.  A foodborne illness or ‘food poisoning’ is caused by eating bacteria, viruses or toxins in food.  Anyone who consumes contaminated meat, fish, dairy, produce or liquids can become ill.  However, those with a weakened immune system – pregnant women, the very young, the elderly, and those with chronic illnesses – are at a greater risk of being infected.  Most people will recover from their foodborne illness without any lasting effects.   Unfortunately for some, there can be long term complications, including kidney failure, chronic arthritis, brain damage, and even death.  In the United States, approximately 3,000 people per year die from food poisoning.

There are many different types of germs that can cause foodborne illness.  Select offenders are explained below.

  • Norovirus is the most common cause of food poisoning.  People who are infected can spread it directly to other people and it is found in produce, shellfish, and leafy greens.  Symptoms typically last 1-3 days and include diarrhea, vomiting, nausea and stomach pain.  Norovirus infections can occur year round but are most common during the winter.
  • Salmonella is found in eggs, poultry, meat, unpasteurized milk and cheeseSymptoms last 4-7 days and include diarrhea, fever, abdominal cramps, and vomiting.
  • E. coli is especially common in ground beef.  It is also found in unpasteurized milk and juice, soft cheeses, and produce.  Symptoms last 5-10 days and include severe, often bloody diarrhea, severe abdominal pain, and vomiting.  E. coli is also associated with hemolytic uremic syndrome (HUS), which causes severe kidney injury.  Symptoms of HUS include decreased urination and dark urine.
  • Listeria is unlike many other germs because it can grow even in cold temperatures.  It is found in deli meat, unpasteurized milk and cheeses, and smoked seafood.  Listeria takes anywhere from 3-70 days to cause symptoms to appear.  Symptoms can last for weeks and include fever, stiff neck, confusion, weakness and vomiting.  The disease primarily affects older adults, pregnant women, newborns, and adults with weakened immune systems.
  • Shigella is spread through the stool of an infected person. Consuming food and water that have ben contaminated or coming in direct contact with an infected person can cause you to feel sick. Symptoms last 2-7 days and include sudden abdominal cramping, fever, diarrhea, nausea and vomiting.  Shigella is very common among young children and in food that requires a lot of hands-on preparation.
  • Campylobacter is found in poultry, unpasteurized milk and contaminated water.  Symptoms last 2-10 days and include diarrhea, cramps, fever and vomiting.

Check back tomorrow to learn the 4 easy steps to avoid food poisoning!

For more information on foodborne illness, contact the Boston Public Health Commission at (617) 534-5611 or visit our website.

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