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The Culinary Perils of Food Preparation
(Food Contamination)

By Dr. Peter W. Kujtan, B.Sc., M.D., Ph.D.

Article printed on page 28 in the June 16, 2010 issue of
The Mississauga News under the feature: Health & Beauty, Medicine Matters.
Portrait of Dr. Peter W. Kujtan, supplied 2005
Dr. Peter W. Kujtan

The warmer days of summer can be fraught with some degree of culinary peril and is more likely to occur when someone else prepares your food. It is related to poor food storage, improper handling and under-cooking when ambient temperatures accelerate bacterial growth. Symptoms range from nothing more than a mild stomach upset all the way to experiencing blood-heavy diarrhea, fever, vomiting, dehydration and hospitalization.

My adolescent son, Andrew, is a good case in point. Iron bowels that accept 3-day-old pizza, milk-less cusps of sugar also known as cereal, assorted meats barbecued to a blushing shade of pink and yet the thought of sliced tomatoes throw this honed system into a tizzy. The truth of the matter is that our immune system does protect us from an awful lot of the assorted microbes that hitch a ride on our food. It comes as no surprise when we notice that immunodeficient persons suffer more food poisoning. These include infants, the elderly, diabetics, cancer patients and people taking medicines that modify immunity.

About 75% of food poisoning is due to bacterial culprits, but we also see parasites such as giardia and toxoplasmosis, viruses such as Hepatitis A and rotavirus, as well as chemicals in the form of pesticides, mushroom toxins, fungal aflotoxins and reef fish poisons. These last few are the easiest to diagnose because numerous symptoms appear almost immediately and you know that you are in trouble. When nausea and vomiting begin within 6 hours of ingestion, it suggests that you ate something containing a toxin. Bacteria such as Staphylococcus aureus and Bacillus cereus produce toxins that reside on foods, and can produce symptoms within hours of ingestion.

Fever may appear once bacteria successfully invade through the bowel walls into the blood. This takes between 12 to 48 hours. This is associated with the classic Salmonella poisoning which is the most common type. Salmonella has many sub-types including typhoid and is found in common meats, eggs, dairy and poultry, but also in uncommon sources such as peanuts, vegetables and chocolate. The typhoid sub-type is rare but dangerous. Other bacteria also produce these symptoms. Shigella is found in egg salads and mayonnaise. Campylobacter is found in clams, shellfish, pork, poultry and milk. And of course, the rare "hamburger disease" caused by toxic strains of E.Coli.0157:H7 found in cattle feces that put Walkerton on the map.

Contamination of food is often caused by persons handling the food. Poor hygiene and improper preparation are common sources of contamination. Frequent hand washing and frequent utensil washing help. Contamination can be limited to a small portion of food.

Related resources:

What Causes Food Contamination? By Pam Pleasant, eHow Contributing Writer.

Foodborne illness from Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia.

Gastroenteritis from Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia.

Bacteria and Foodborne Illness from National Digestive Diseases Information Clearinghouse (NDDIC).

Digestive Diseases: Food Poisoning from MedicineNet.com. How Is Campylobacter Infection Diagnosed and Treated? How Is Salmonella Infection Diagnosed and Treated? How Is Shigella Diagnosed and Treated? How Is E. Coli Infection Diagnosed and Treated? What Is Listeria Infection? How Is Botulism Diagnosed and Treated?

Food Poisoning from eMedicineHealth.

Poison Prevention Website. Steps to take to help prevent accidental poisonings.

Bacterial Food Poisoning by Al B. Wagner, Jr.

Food Contamination and Poisoning from MedlinePlus.

Food Poisoning from Foodlink, Food and Drink Federation, UK.

About Food Poisoning from VDACS (Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services).

Food Poisoning by Roberto M Gamarra, MD, from eMedicine, WebMD.

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