Column 4 – Bugs That Are More Than Annoying

Have you ever had nausea or vomiting, cramps or diarrhea along with maybe a headache or fever? Many people have and they feel they have a “bug”. That “bug” may have been food poisoning. A few years ago someone close to me did get sick and she did not know whether it was food poisoning or some type of bug that was going around. What she did know is that she felt bad shortly after eating a sauce that had an expiry date that was long overdue. I believe she would not be alone in the fact that she ate something that had expired, but the truth is this can be very dangerous. Many of us grew up in times of shortages of food or we were raised to not waste food. With the price of food you certainly cannot blame someone for not wanting to throw any away. Although waste is not a good thing, poisoning is even worse. The person I am speaking about ended up in hospital, probably because she did not get enough water back into her body. Because she is older she is at a greater risk of being harmed by food poisoning. Dehydration is serious for anyone, and even more dangerous for older people. Severe dehydration can cause a drop in blood pressure which affects getting blood to organs such as the kidneys. Kidney failure can be fatal.
I thought I would do some research at the time this happened. There is a great deal of information out there on food poisoning. It really is quite common. I was surprised to learn that between 11 and 13 million Canadians get food poisoning every year! Eating foods which have passed their “best before” dates is a possible cause and it was stated over and over that young children, older people and pregnant people are the greatest at risk. Eating contaminated food means it is past its prime or it has been infected with a bacteria, virus or parasite. To get a little science speaking for a moment I will share some names of some of the more common bacteria because I think you will recognize their names: Salmonella- found in beef, chicken, milk or eggs; but, all foods, even fruits and vegetables, can be infected. E. coli – from animal intestines (feces) and commonly found in beef. Shigella is also found in intestinal tracts and can be shared when hands are not washed after using the bathroom. Staphylococcus and Clostridium perfringens, and the toxins they produce. Drinking contaminated water means it has bacteria, virus’ or parasites in it.
I have been personally affected by food poisoning at least three (3) times in my life. I recently took a Safe Food Handlers course and it was very informative. I realized that I have really safe food handling ways, however I learned a lot too. I cannot share all of the important points here, but I will try to summarize: wash hands often, separate prep areas for meats and veggies, keep cutting areas clean, keep hot food hot and cold food cold, cook meats carefully (use a meat thermometer), put leftovers in fridge quickly, don’t leave food out!
Washing hands thoroughly (at least 20 seconds) and act on “when in doubt, throw it out” you will greatly reduce your risk of suffering with food poisoning. Now that being said I have mentioned that my experiences with food poisoning came mainly from eating in public places. People working in the food industry are required to have Safe Food Handlers education and those of us who eat there hope they apply their education and fully appreciate its importance. Before my last instance of food poisoning , I did notice the person who made the pizza was cashing me through at the cash register wearing the same gloves that had handled the food, hmmm, probably not a good practice. Perhaps this was my warning sign. More than likely the pizza sauce was the culprit since another pizza had the same toppings, but not the same sauce and that person did not become ill. Should you feel sick, call 811 and the nurse on the phone will be able to guide you. Stay safe, eat safe and call 811 if you need help on whether to report, where to report or if you need health advice.
Patricia is the Executive Director of the Westford Nursing Home in Port Elgin. She is an advocate for sharing information about aging well and enjoys promoting important aspects that will support our older population to age well. Patricia can be reached at executivedirector@westfordnursinghome.com.

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