True food poisoning occurs when a person ingests a contaminating chemical or natural toxin, but most cases of food-borne illness are caused by a variety of food-borne pathogenic bacteria, viruses, or parasites that contaminate food, a US doctor said Thursday.
The contamination usually arises from improper handling, preparation, or food storage, Taing Tek Hong, a Florida-based physician, told “Hello VOA” Thursday.
Bacteria can cause food poisoning in two different ways. Some infect the intestines and other bacteria produce chemicals in foods known as toxins. He said bacteria such as staphylococcus produce a toxin in foods, while salmonellae causes food poisoning.
Campylobacter is the most commonly identified food-borne bacterial infection in the world. Campylobacter is transmitted by raw poultry, raw milk and water contaminated by animal feces.
Shigella is transmitted in water polluted with human wastes, Taing Tek Hong said. E. coli is transmitted by eating undercooked hamburger, unpasteurized milk or juices, or contaminated well water.
Giardia is a mild illness with watery diarrhea often lasting one to two weeks. It is transmitted by drinking contaminated water from lakes or streams. The infection can be spread from person to person by food or other items contaminated with feces from an infected person.
Symptoms of food poisoning typically begin several hours after ingestion and can include nausea, abdominal pain, vomiting, diarrhea, fever, headache, or fatigue, the doctor said. However, food-borne illness can result in permanent health problems or death, especially in babies, young children, pregnant women, the elderly and sick people.
Other causes of food illness can include the use of pesticides by fruit vendors, which can cause mild to severe illness with weakness, blurred vision, headache, cramps and diarrhea.
Most food poisoning can be prevented, the doctor said.
“To avoid food poisoning you need to follow the general safe food-handling tips such as washing hands before, during and after preparation and serving food,” he said. “Wash cutting boards frequently, use a clean plate or utensil for cooked meats, keep raw meat and poultry separate from other foods. Do not re-use items that held raw meat. Cool foods rapidly after preparation. Cook food thoroughly to kill bacteria.”