• In my home we rarely get sick. Sniffles now and then, sure. Allergies? Or course. But sick? Not really.

    Once our son left the day care environment and started primary school things went pretty well for us.

    What is the cause of your illness?

    On a rare occasion someone “got sick” – I will leave the details to the imagination – I would immediately ask, “what did you eat yesterday?”

    To me rather than considering a virus, I would immediately jump to food poisoning or foodborne illness.

    I think it is the culinary classes, food service management classes, the stories I would hear in school as I got my degrees in nutrition science and exam questions about the type of illnesses that could result from improper food handling and storage.

    Raw chicken is a big source of the Salmonella bacteria.

    If you come by my home when I am dealing with raw chicken, you may be in fear of your life considering that if it was reasonable, my kitchen would remind you of the storage locker from Santa Clarita Diet or Patrick Bateman’s living room in American Psycho.

    While I don’t know for sure that any of the “GI distress” that occurs in our home is related to foodborne illness or the cold or flu, I do know that in most cases the symptoms are long gone in 24 hours or less.  

    Now, I must note that there are exceptions to the cause of the GI distress in that there were times where migraines caused some issues as well as the after-effects of overconsumption of alcohol. It happens.

    But those are obvious. And, with the alcohol, dare I say, deserved?

    Back to foodborne illness…

    People tend to think that restaurants are the biggest culprit, but the home kitchen can be just as much to blame since a lot of people don’t know what contributes to the contamination or cross-contamination, and inadvertently get people sick. And, wiping your fruit of your shirt? May not be the best way to wipe away germs.

    Another thing I notice, even with my own habits, is take-out food or having left-over restaurant food packed up to go home.

    When you get food to-go, whether it is leftovers or the entire meal, get this to a safe temperature soon.

    Last year, I was traveling and was in an all-day training. We went out for lunch and when I could not finish my meal, I got the rest packed up for later. The take out container sat for the rest of the afternoon under my chair for about four hours, then getting back to my hotel, I placed it on the desk for later.

    I went out to dinner with some of my travel companions, and the next morning, after realizing that my lunch from the previous day had been at room temperature nearly 19 hours, it was best left behind for the trash.  Unfortunate that this food was wasted, but better wasted than getting me wasted with illness. Yikes.

    Most bacteria connected to foodborne illness just love, love and love to procreate at “room temperature” or anywhere between 40 – 140 degrees. It’s basically an orgy for them. A couple of hours isn’t so bad but once you get to the four-hour mark all bets are off and things may not go so well. Take your chances in trying not to catch something.

    Know the Danger Zone for your food.

    My big concern with this whole “40 – 140 under 4” is when there are social gatherings for various reasons outside of a restaurant or food service establishment. Examples: the potluck at work, the get together at a friend’s when others bring a dish to share, picnics, camping trips, funeral receptions, birthday parties at the park…. You get the idea. While people may not think the food is out for that long, consider this: we attended a summer party at a friend’s house last weekend in which we arrived at 6 pm with our dish-to-share along with others who brought their dish-to-share and the party was still going at 11 pm when we left. While the chips and crackers may not be a big deal being out that long, the dip and cheese on the platter to go with the chips and crackers is. The brownies and cookies? Not a big deal, but the grilled meat still there for the picking could be.

    Not everyone will get sick, but the risk is much higher when the food it left sitting out like, not kept cold or hot (as appropriate) and some people who are more vulnerable to getting sick including pregnant women, younger children, older adults and people with compromised immune systems.

    Food that is more likely to cause or contribute to foodborne illness are most often in the protein related food group, including improperly cooked or handled meat, poultry, fish, shellfish, egg dishes, raw (unpasteurized) milk products including cheeses made with raw milk, unwashed fruits and vegetables, deli salads and deli or luncheon meats, and sprouts. Yep, sprouts, including fresh/raw bean sprouts and alfalfa sprouts.

    While you don’t need to be terrified of eating leftovers or at potlucks, there are some things you can do to reduce your risk.

    If you take any left-overs from a restaurant or holiday meal, get those in the refrigerator in less than 2 hours. The sooner the better. Don’t let them sit in your car while you run a few errands.

    Reduce your risk of foodborne illness at potlucks and other social gatherings.

    If you are at a pot-luck, picnic, backyard gathering, or anywhere food will sit out for a bit, keep in mind that four hours total is the “limit” for food being at room temperature.

    And for sure, don’t take out the hot dogs from the cooler and let them sit on the table in your camping spot all day long while they defrost. (Seriously, I saw this happen – the package of hot dogs was in the sun for about six hours minimum. I strongly encouraged them to find an alternative meal for the kids at least.)

    And if you do get sick, take this information from the FDA.gov website about foodborne illness

    Foodborne Illness: Know the Symptoms

    Symptoms of foodborne illness usually appear 12 to 72 hours after eating contaminated food but may occur between 30 minutes and 4 weeks later. Symptoms include:

    • Nausea, vomiting, diarrhea (may be bloody), and abdominal pain
    • Flulike symptoms such as fever, headache, and body ache
    If you suspect you could have foodborne illness, contact your health care provider right away.

    If you suspect that you could have a foodborne illness, contact your physician or health care provider right away!

    If you do go to a health care provider with suspected foodborne illness, you could receive a call from your Department of Health shortly after, especially if you test positive for foodborne illness. Please help them by responding to their requests about the situation. Most often they are trying to get to the root of the illness and determine how to take appropriate action. This may lead to a recall or even better safety standards in the future.