Food poisoning happens when germs—bacteria or viruses—contaminate food or drink. Children who eat contaminated food may get sick very suddenly, and the symptoms —diarrhea and vomiting—can be severe. While food poisoning can be miserable, most people recover fully within a couple of days.
Of the 48 million people who suffer with food poisoning in the United States every year, approximately 100,000 people suffer from dehydration or additional complications and require hospitalization. On rare occasions, some people may suffer severe, long–term health problems or even death resulting from food poisoning.
Many times, food poisoning comes from animal-based foods such as meat, poultry, seafood, eggs, and dairy products. However, plant-based foods such as fresh fruits and vegetables can also carry bacteria that cause food poisoning. Even drinking water can be contaminated and cause food poisoning.
Food may be contaminated in a variety of ways:
- Water used for irrigation may contaminate fresh fruits and vegetables with harmful bacteria.
- During processing, packing, or shipping, harmful bacteria may contaminate meat and poultry.
- Foods not stored at the proper temperature and old food may allow harmful bacteria to grow.
- Cooks—in restaurants and at home— may infect the food with bacteria when their hands, utensils, and work surfaces are not clean.
The federal government lists the following organisms as the ones that cause the most illness, hospitalization, and death in the United States:
- Salmonella bacteria are the most common cause of food poisoning in the United States. They can be present in dairy, undercooked meat, and fresh produce that have had contact with animal feces.
- Norovirus spreads easily and is the most common cause of what we call the stomach flu. Norovirus infects produce, shellfish, ready-to-eat foods touched by infected food workers, or any foods contaminated with vomit or feces from an infected person.
- E. coli is a common cause of food poisoning. Most people get this type of food poisoning after consuming undercooked ground beef. E. coli may be found in food that has been in contact with animal feces.
- Campylobacter infects meat, poultry, unpasteurized milk, and water. These bacteria may be found in food or drink contaminated with animal feces.
- Listeria infects unpasteurized dairy products, smoked seafood, and processed meats—hot dogs and lunchmeat. Less commonly, the bacteria can contaminate fresh fruits and vegetables. Listeria can grow while refrigerated. Food must be cooked or pasteurized to kill these bacteria.
- C. perfringens infects beef, poultry, and gravies and thrives at temperatures between 40º F and 140º F —the range known as the “danger zone.” These bacteria often cause illness in institutional settings where food is cooked and then kept warm for long periods.
Food is one of life’s great pleasures. However, it is important to be aware that food can look and taste great while being contaminated by harmful organisms that can make you and your child sick. Following proper food safety guidelines can help mitigate the risk of getting sick with food poisoning.
David Todd, a San Antonio child injury attorney at the Todd Law Firm, is passionate about child safety. If your child is injured and you need legal advice, call him at 512-472-7799 for a free case review. You can also download a free copy of his book Seven Deadly Mistakes That Can Wreck Your Texas Accident Case for more information.