DR. HOOK- Eat up! But be sure food is bacteria-free

Poison is such a sneaky way to murder someone. Kings and Queens made servants sample their meals beforehand to ensure they weren't poisoned. (Something tells me these servants hated buffets.) Though increasingly now it seems like our current food system is accidentally poisoning Americans. I don't mean to throw tomatoes at the FDA, but I never thought tomatoes would be linked to a Salmonella outbreak. I thought Salmonella was reserved to chickens and eggs– oh, and there was the ice cream epidemic... oops, and the peanut butter fiasco... and Colorado tap water, turtles... hmmm, I need to rethink this. 

Salmonella is not an Italian fish that swims upstream. It is the #1 cause of food poisoning outbreaks. This bacterium causes everything from acute gastroenteritis (nausea, vomiting, diarrhea) to typhoid fever.

Antibiotics don't work so well against Salmonella because of resistance, which appears to be from the livestock getting antibiotics. (I don't get that? How come the CDC yells at doctors not to prescribe antibiotics for viral illnesses, but uninfected Elsie the Cow gets antibiotics like candy?) 

So about 80 percent of food poisoning occurs from commercially or institutionally prepared foods. Improper food storage is a huge culprit. Not chilling the food appropriately allows bacteria to fester. Too-low cooking temperatures will not kill bacteria. Cross-contamination of foods is like letting Campylobacter-contaminated chicken cross the road to get to other foods. Food handlers who don't wash their hands (especially after using the bathroom) can transmit their fecal to your oral. 

So now with the small farms and food businesses all replaced by large food factories, food poisoning is easier to spread to millions of Americans. (That is why I try to buy local and eat organic foods.)

E. coli can cause more than traveler's diarrhea. The 0157:H7 variety can cause bloody diarrhea and be deadly. The bacteria live in healthy cattle, but also horses, sheep, deer, goats, and of all things... dogs. Lassie of today might save Timmy in the well, but his dog poop might contaminate the vegetable garden and do the family in.

Staph aureus likes to camp out on precooked, prepackaged meats with high salt (like ham) sitting in room temperature. Staph aureus releases toxins onto the food, so you can't cook them out with heat. The toxins can make a person vomit within 30 minutes (but usually two-to-six hours), and then Niagara Falls comes out the other end. 

Soups left out under-heated also love Staph aureus. (No Chicken Soup for the Soul in that case.)

Clostridium perfringens leaves spores in meat sitting in 80-120 degree Fahrenheit temperatures. (Ah, can I have this well-done please?) Usually this causes abdominal cramps and diarrhea without fever, but some strains can be deadly.

 Clostridium botulinum can be found in canned foods; the toxins paralyze the muscles. (Yes, this is what Botox is all about: from food poison to wrinkle remover. What will they think of next? Anthrax for facials?) There is also infant botulism in which the spores colonize in the infant's gut. Honey is directly linked to this, and corn has been implicated.

Have you ever had chitterlings? Undercooked pork can have Yersinia enterocolitica, though I've heard the smell of chitterlings alone might make you nauseated.

Powdered infant formula was contaminated with Enterobacter sakazakii that caused meningitis and a severely damaging colon infection. Raspberries from Guatemala in 1996-97 had Cyclospora and caused weeks of mucous-filled diarrhea. Four hundred thousand Milwaukee folks suffered from Cryptosporidiosis in their drinking water in 1993. Listeria isn't common, but it's the #1 killer among the food poisons. It's found in unpasteurized milk but was also in a cafeteria corn salad once. 

Egads, I haven't even gotten to virus, chemical ingestions, and seafood, but I'm out of time. I hope in this short article I've served up some food for thought.

Dr. Hook cracks a joke or two, but he's a renowned physician with a local practice. Email him with your questions.


1 comment

> (I don't get that? How come the CDC yells at doctors not to prescribe antibiotics for viral illnesses, but uninfected Elsie the Cow gets antibiotics like candy?)

You might look for an answer here, if you're honestly interested in the science: www.AntibioticTruths.com