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Foodborne illness is in the news and should always be taken seriously. Prevention is key—cooking meat properly and ensuring that raw food is thoroughly washed before serving—but knowledge of symptoms and treatment options can keep foodborne illnesses from becoming much worse.
With the latest series of recalls due to listeria, many are looking to be more aware of potential bacteria in their foods.
Jerrold B. Leikin, MD, Medical Toxicologist discusses five food-borne bacterium, including symptoms and required treatments:
Listeria is a bacterium that is found in soil, water and animal feces. The bacteria can find its way into food, however, typically via raw vegetables that have not been properly cleaned, animal protein, unpasteurized milk or foods that include unpasteurized milk and some processed foods like soft cheese and deli meats. Recently, outbreaks due to contaminated ice cream, cole slaw, alfalfa sprouts and hot dogs have occurred.
Salmonella is most commonly found in meat and eggs but raw vegetables can also be contaminated if they are handled by unwashed hands. If meat and eggs are undercooked or vegetables are not properly washed, salmonella can cause mild to severe gastrointestinal illness. Unpasteurized milk can also harbor salmonella.
Escherichia coli (E. coli) is harmless in some cases and can cause serious illness in others. E. coli exposure could result from the consumption of contaminated raw vegetables and undercooked ground beef.
Botulism is a rare but very serious illness that is caused by consuming food contaminated with the botulinum toxin. Unlike other foodborne illnesses that affect mostly the gastrointestinal system, botulism attacks the nervous system causing paralysis from top to bottom, starting with the eyes and face. It is usually found in home-canned foods, poorly preserved meat, marine products, or liver pâté. Infant (intestinal) botulism can occur in babies under one year old and has been correlated with ingesting spores found in honey. Initial symptoms of infant botulism include lethargy, poor feeding, weak cry, constipation, and progressive weakness.
Shigella is a highly infectious bacterium, most commonly found in potatoes, milk products, tossed salads, stewed apples and raw oysters. Outbreaks of food poisoning usually occur in the summer.