Food Poisoning During Summer Months

Each year an estimated one in six people living in the United States develop foodborne illnesses, such as food poisoning.  The illness occurs when an individual consumes food that is contaminated with bacteria, viruses or parasites.

The chances of getting food poisoning are higher during the summer months as the warmer weather promotes the growth of these organisms and increases the likelihood for contamination to occur.

According to United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) Food Safety and Inspection Service, “Foodborne bacteria grow fastest at temperatures between 90 to 110 °F (32 to 43°C.)” In higher temperatures, food will produce the nutrients and moisture needed for pathogens (virus, bacteria and other microorganisms that cause disease) to flourish.  Some of the most common pathogens that cause food poisoning are Salmonella, Listeria, Toxoplasma, E. coli and norovirus.

In addition to warmer temperatures, summer provides us with more opportunities to cook outdoors. It is difficult to utilize food safety controls such as refrigeration, thermostat-controlled cooking and convenient facilities to wash our hands when cooking outside. These factors can further increase the risk of food contamination.

Food poisoning is preventable and there are several safety measures that can be exercised to reduce the risk of exposure. Dr. Asit Mehta, Gastrointestinal Specialist at Jamaica Hospital Medical Center shares the following tips to prevent contamination:

  • Clean hands and food preparation stations often– It is important to wash your hands. Unclean hands can spread germs and cause foodborne illness. It is equally as important to keep the areas where you prepare food clean; germs can thrive on hard surfaces as well.
  • Cook food at proper temperatures- The USDA recommends that you cook the following meats and poultry until they reach these internal temperatures:

Poultry (whole, pieces & ground): 165 °F /74 °C

Ground meats: 160 °F /71 °C

Beef, pork, lamb and veal (steaks, roasts & chops): 145 °F /63 °C

  • Keep raw and cooked foods separate- Avoid cross contamination of food by wrapping raw meats and poultry separately during storage. Keep them away from other foods in coolers or similar storage devices. Do not place cooked meats on plates or other utensils that previously contained raw meat; unless they have been properly cleaned with soap and hot water.
  • Refrigerate perishables and leftovers promptly- The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) states that, “Germs can grow in many foods within 2 hours unless you refrigerate them. (During the summer heat, cut that time down to 1 hour.)”
  • Clean produce- Before cutting, preparing and serving produce, it is important to wash them.

Food poisoning is characterized by symptoms that include diarrhea, vomiting, fever, abdominal cramps and nausea. Symptoms may take a few hours or days to present.  These symptoms typically run their course and go away on their own.  Your doctor will recommend that you keep hydrated, and may suggest that along with water, drink clear broths and non-caffeinated sport drinks.  Getting plenty of rest and avoiding foods that contain dairy, alcohol, caffeine, high concentration of fats and seasoning may also be recommended.  Before taking over the counter medications such as anti-diarrhea medicine, consult your doctor first.

Dr. Mehta advises, “If severe symptoms such as the following persist, see your physician right away”:

  • Blood in vomit or stool
  • Diarrhea for more than three days
  • Frequent vomiting and the inability to keep liquids down
  • Signs of dehydration, such as lightheadedness, dizziness, excessive thirst, severe abdominal cramps,  weak or no urination and dry mouth
  • Neurological symptoms such as tingling in the arms, blurry vision and weakness in muscles
  • Confusion
  • Rapid heartbeat
  • Fever over 101.5 F

“Food poisoning can be very dangerous for the elderly, pregnant women and people with weakened immune systems. Do not take symptoms lightly in these individuals and seek treatment immediately,” warns Dr. Mehta.

Gastroenterologists specialize in the treatment of gastrointestinal, liver, and pancreatic disorders, including colorectal cancer screenings. Jamaica Hospital Medical Center’s Division of Gastroenterology consists of Board-Certified gastroenterologists who provide high quality and expert care to patients who suffer from such conditions in both inpatient and outpatient settings. To schedule an appointment with Dr. Mehta or any our gastroenterologists, please call 718-206-7001.

All content of this newsletter is intended for general information purposes only and is not intended or implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Please consult a medical professional before adopting any of the suggestions on this page. You must never disregard professional medical advice or delay seeking medical treatment based upon any content of this newsletter. PROMPTLY CONSULT YOUR PHYSICIAN OR CALL 911 IF YOU BELIEVE YOU HAVE A MEDICAL EMERGENCY.

The Facts About the Stomach Flu

The flu isn’t the only virus that we need to protect ourselves against this time of year. Gastroenteritis, or the stomach flu is a very contagious bug that is common in our region beginning in the fall and winter months.

Unlike influenza, which affects your respiratory system, the stomach flu attacks your intestines causing the following symptoms:

• Watery, non-bloody diarrhea
• Abdominal cramps and pain
• Nausea, vomiting or both
• Occasional muscle aches, headache, and low-grade fever

Businessman with stomach ache

Gastroenteritis is typically spread through the sharing of food or drink with someone who is infected or sharing other items with them such as utensils or towels. Children can also spread the illness by placing their hands in their mouths after touching contaminated items or surfaces.

Symptoms usually appear within one to three days after exposure and can range from mild to severe. Typically symptoms last only a day or two, but in some cases, they may persist for up to ten days.

The main complication from viral gastroenteritis is dehydration — a severe loss of water and essential salts and minerals. If you’re healthy and drink enough to replace fluids you lose from vomiting and diarrhea, dehydration shouldn’t be a problem. However, infants, older adults and people with suppressed immune systems may become severely dehydrated when they lose more fluids than they can replace. Hospitalization might be needed so that lost fluids can be replaced intravenously. Dehydration can be fatal, but rarely.

To avoid catching the stomach flu, it is recommended that individuals wash their hands thoroughly, use separate items around the home, disinfect all potentially infected items and surfaces, and keep your distance from those who are infected.

If you do contract gastroenteritis, follow these tips:

• Let your stomach settle. Stop eating solid foods for a few hours.
• Try sucking on ice chips or taking small sips of water. You might also try drinking clear liquids or broths or non-caffeinated sports drinks. Drink plenty of liquid every day, taking small, frequent sips.
• Ease back into eating. Gradually begin to eat bland, easy-to-digest foods, such as ginger ale crackers, toast, gelatin, bananas, rice and chicken. Stop eating if your nausea returns.
• Avoid certain foods and substances until you feel better. These include dairy products, caffeine, alcohol, nicotine, and fatty or highly seasoned foods.
• Get plenty of rest. The illness and dehydration may have made you weak and tired.

See a doctor if you become dehydrated (characterized by excessive thirst, dry mouth, dark yellow or no urine, severe weakness or dizziness), if symptoms persist for over 24 hours, if you are vomiting blood or have blood in your stool, or if you have a temperature of 104 degrees or above.

All content of this newsletter is intended for general information purposes only and is not intended or implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Please consult a medical professional before adopting any of the suggestions on this page. You must never disregard professional medical advice or delay seeking medical treatment based upon any content of this newsletter. PROMPTLY CONSULT YOUR PHYSICIAN OR CALL 911 IF YOU BELIEVE YOU HAVE A MEDICAL EMERGENCY.