Millions of food poisoning cases occur each year, and millions more go unrecognised because they are mis-diagonisd – or unreported. The symptoms include: vomiting, diarrhoea and pain in the abdomen.
Most of us can handle a little food poisoning without major upset, but there are a number of high-risk groups for whom it can be very dangerous, even fatal. These groups include the elderly, infants, pregnant women and the chronically ill, especially those with weakend immune systems. There are also certain types of food poisoning like (botulism) that can be deadly for just about anyone.
WHAT CAUSES FOOD POISONING?
Most food poisoning occurs because food was handled improperly at home, often during routine procedures that we all take for granted.(Other stages at which germs and toxins might enter food are during cultivation and storage).
There are four main culprits:
Bacteria: These are responsible for more than two-thirds of food poisoning episodes. The important germs in this category are Salmonella, Staphylococci Clostrdia and Bacillus Cereus. The food we eat, no matter how hygienically prepared, almost always contains a few bacteria. However, a small number does not cause illness: at a rough estimate, about one million bacteria must be present before a healthy adult will come to harm. However, in case of children under one year, or in case of old or sick persons, only one lakh bacteria bring on illness.
Viruses: These are the simplest living organisms containing only genetic material. Viruses require living tissues for their growth and multiplication, therefore will not multiply in food. However, food can serve as a transport vehicle for viruses. Since viruses are destroyed by temperatures achieved in normal cooking, food poisoning by viruses occurs largely in food which has not been cooked or has been handled after cooking by a person who is a carrier of viruses.
Chemicals: Common chemicals which produce food poisoning are pesticides, detergents, paraffin, food additives, sterilizing agents and packing materials. Food poisoning from chemicals is mostly caused by carelessness in the home or in an industrial establishment.
Try to avoid buying attractive and highly-coloured foods as these contain several addictives which way harmful. Carefully read the manufacturer’s information/instructions regarding contents, use and storage.
Aoid the use of packaged wheat-flour. Instead, buy whole-wheat from the market, clean it with plenty of water, dry it and have it ground at a floor mill.
Vegetables: Certain naturally poisonous plants, when accidentally mixed in with vegetables, cause food posioning. Among these are toadstool (confused with mushroom), hemlock, black nightshade, rhubarb leaves and undercooked red kidney beans. The toxins of most plants are unaffected by cooking.
HOW GERMS GAIN ACCESS TO THE KITCHEN
The main entry points are:
Food Handlers: Usually these are carriers (persons carrying the germs in their body but not suffering from the disease itself). They may be convalescents, i.e. people who have recently suffered food poisoning and who, though recovered, continue to pass a small number of these germs in the faeces; these may gain access to food due to improper washing of hands and poor general hygiene.
Carriers may also be healthy people who have not suffered the symptoms of food poisoning but nevertheless carry harmful germs in their intestines. Again, the medium of instruction is faeces.
Animals, birds and Insects: Flies, rats, birds, other insects and animals (incluing pets) usually carry bacteria in their intestines and on their feet and fur. These animals are infected through eating contaminated feeds, grazing on contaminated pasture land or through contact with other (infected) animals.
Food and food products: When animals are slaughtered and dressed, germs from the surroundings and from the hands of the handlers may contaminate the surface of the meat where they grow and multiply.
Dust: Vegetables are usually contaminated with dust which may contain bacterial spores. Spores are the unique feature of some (not all) bacteria. When growth and multiplication of bacteria is not possible due to an unfavourable environment, the bacterial cells form spores (small, reproductive cells) and the remaining part of the germs disintegrates. These spores are resistant to even boiling and freezing, can survive for years without food or water and, in faourable circumstances, are capable of reverting to the original, infective form – to grow again and multiple.
Raw vegetables should be first rinsed in plenty of water and then dipped in a very weak solution of potassium permanganate (about of grams in 1 litre of water), for 5 minutes, and then washed again thoroughly with clean water. Potassium permanganate removes the surface dirt, spores and germs.