Is eating that rare steak worth the risk? Meet six of the leading culprits behind contaminated food, where they trhive, and how they can be avoided.
Typically, it is found in undercooked meat, poultry, eggs, and unpasteurized dairy products.
Symptoms of Salmonella infection include diarrhea, fever, and abdominal cramps that develop after 12–72 hours. The illness usually lasts 4–7 days, and most people recover without treatment.
Moderately high. You face a 1 in 144 chance of getting sick from it. Contaminated foods usually look and smell normal.
Avoid sunny-side-up or soft-boiled eggs. Eat only well-cooked poultry and meat, including hamburgers, which should not be pink in the middle. Thoroughly wash all produce.
Contaminated water, raw milk, and raw or undercooked meat or poultry can all carry it into the human intestinal system.
Campylobacter infection, which usually occurs within 2–10 days after the bacteria are ingested, may cause fever, headache, and muscle pain, followed by diarrhea, stomach pain, and nausea. In some cases physicians prescribe antibiotics when diarrhea is severe.
High. Campylobacter is the leading cause of bacterial diarrhea in North America. With about 2 million cases each year, you have about a 1 in 130 chance of getting sick.
The bacteria are easily destroyed by thorough cooking. If there is a chance that your water may be contaminated with this organism, boil it before drinking.
Escherichia coli (E. coli)
Most illness from E. Coli has been associated with eating undercooked, contaminated ground beef. Person-to-person contact in families and child care centers is also an important mode of transmission. Infection can also occur after drinking unpasteurized milk or swimming in contaminated water.
Severe abdominal cramping and watery, bloody diarrhea are the most prevalent symptoms. Usually little or no fever is present, and the illness resolves in 5–10 days. In some people, particularly children under age five and the elderly, the infection can cause hemolytic uremic syndrome, in which the red blood cells are destroyed and the kidneys fail.
High. It takes less than 10 E. coli organisms to cause a problem.
Cook ground meat to a temperature of 70°C at its thickest part (a meat thermometer is a must for this), avoid unpasteurized milk, cider, or juices, rinse produce—especially sprouts—thoroughly, and wash hands carefully.
Hepatitis A Virus (HAV)
Water, shellfish, and salads are the most frequent sources, but cold cuts, sandwiches, fruits, fruit juices, milk, milk products, vegetables, and iced drinks are also often implicated in outbreaks.
It may take a month after infection for symptoms to develop. These can include fever, fatigue, nausea, jaundice, poor appetite, and abdominal pain.
High, if you dine on raw shellfish. About one in every 1,000 oysters is contaminated.
Wash your hands after using the toilet and before preparing or eating food.
Cook shellfish thoroughly.
This bacteria is found in soil and water, which means vegetables can become contaminated while growing. It also has been detected in a variety of raw foods, such as uncooked meats and fish, as well as in foods that become contaminated during processing, such as soft cheeses, franks, and cold cuts.
Infection may cause influenza-like symptoms, including persistent fever and stiff neck, sometimes preceded by nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea. Symptoms usually appear 3 weeks after infection but can emerge as early as 11 days or as late as 70 days from exposure. Miscarriage and stillbirth are risks for pregnant women.
Generally low, with less than 2,000 cases a year. Almost exclusively strikes pregnant women, newborns, young children, the elderly, and people with weakened immune systems.
If you’re in a high-risk group, buy only pasteurized dairy products, cider, or juices. Avoid eating any foods after their use-by dates. Heat hot dogs and cold cuts to 75°C before eating. Warm up dips like hummus, too. Wash vegetables thoroughly. Refrigeration does not prevent the bacteria from multiplying.
Raw oysters, cake frosting, and salads, as well as drinking water, have been implicated in outbreaks.
Most common are mild and brief nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, and/or abdominal pain; headache and low-grade fever may also occur. Severe illness requiring hospitalization is very rare.
High, especially if you eat raw oysters from warm, Southern waters. Only the common cold is reported more frequently than Norwalk virus as a cause of illness in North America.
Eat only cooked shellfish and throw away any shellfish that does not open during cooking.