How to Avoid Food Poisoning

Food Poisoning is largely avoidable.

Are you poisoning yourself when you eat?

Food poisoning affects millions of people in our country each year. The CDC estimates that 1 in every 6 individuals develops symptoms of food poisoning annually with as many as 3,000 resulting deaths.

The good news is…most symptoms of food poisonings are limited to nausea, vomiting and diarrhea. Equally good is that these symptoms often go away within 24 hours. If, however, they continue past this 24 hours point or include other symptoms such as severe headache, difficulty swallowing, difficulty breathing, walking or talking you should seek medical attention right away.

So what is safe to eat and what is dangerous? This time of year everyone seems wary of the dreaded potato salad with mayonnaise. Is mayonnaise a problem? Sure it is, if left unrefrigerated. So are the cooked potatoes. If potatoes are left out at room temperature too long they grow bacteria that will make you sick. It is important to keep foods cold and out of direct sunlight and heat. Exceptions of course include breads, fruits, vegetables, some grains and some deserts. Any type of pastries with cream fillings or cakes frosted with whip cream or cream cheese frostings need to be kept cold.

Cold cuts are another source of concern if not kept cold. Pregnant women and anyone at risk for infections should avoid processed meats all together. Processed meats may be contaminated with Listeria. This organism may produce vomiting, diarrhea, fever, headache and muscle pain. Unpasteurized milk and soft cheese may also be contaminated with Listeria.

When I think of summer, I think of the beach, and beach food includes fish.

Shell fish in particular. Certain types of fish can be a problem depending on the type and time of year.

When buying shellfish it is important to remember that the shell needs to be closed before cooking. If the shell is open before cooking it, throw it away. If after cooking the shell does not open throw it away.

Make sure when you are buying shellfish or any type of fish that you buy it from a reputable grocer and that the fish has been keep cold. Some fish such a red snapper, grouper and bass could be contaminated with the organism Ciguatera during certain times of year (May to August) and in warm waters. (like those around Florida and Hawaii).

Ciguatera, which is one of the most common types of fish related food poisonings, may result in symptoms such as watery diarrhea, sweating, metallic taste, numbness of lips and mouth, among other things.

If cold food feels hot or hot food feels cold you may have a form of food poisoning.

An unusual occurrence that is note worthy and helps with diagnosis is that a person may develop the reversal of temperature sensations. For example something hot will feel cold and something cold will feel hot.

Other types and ways of developing food poisoning include eating raw and undercooked chicken or other poultry. This puts you at risk for risk for developing salmonella poisoning. Symptoms include vomiting, diarrhea and fever. Salmonella poisoning can develop after eating meat, eggs, vegetables, fruits or manufactured products such as peanut butter. It is most often association with eating raw or undercooked chicken.

Using safe handling practices when preparing and cooking chicken can help to decrease the chances of you getting sick. They include washing your hands with warm soapy water after touching raw chicken. Also wash the cutting board, dishes and utensils that you used. If you marinated the chicken while it was raw do not put that same marinade on the chicken once it is cooked.

Those hamburgers that you are grilling need to be cooked thoroughly to make sure that you don’t develop E-coli. Other sources of E-coli include raw vegetables and bottled water. The resulting condition can produce varying symptoms such as fever, vomiting, stomach pain and excessive diarrhea. Fortunately due to enhanced safety practices the incidence of E-coli has dropped significantly.

So what can you do, eat only the food you grow?

It doesn’t have to be that drastic. Following good safety guidelines such those posted on and at Both of these sites provide updated alerts on product recalls.

Remember to keeps foods cold, when cooking check to make sure that the food is at the correct temperature, avoid leaving foods out in the sun or on your counter top too long, defrost meats in your refrigerator, wash all contaminated areas well with warm soapy water, avoid cooking for others when you are sick and always wash your hands before preparing a meal, eating or touching food and after handling uncooked meat.

Always remember when it comes to food, “when it doubt throw it out.

One more tip… you should always avoid eating mushrooms growing in your yard or foraging for them in the woods. Toxic mushrooms can be deadly. Poisonous mushrooms are known to grow side by side with non poisonous mushrooms. It is impossible to tell the difference unless you are examining the spores under a microscopic and are a trained mycologist. (a scientist who studies mushrooms). There is no room for error here. Be smart, be safe, only eat purchased cultivated mushrooms.

Now go out and enjoy your picnic………..

For Further Information

Michele Caliva is the Administrative Director of the Upstate New York Poison Center, Upstate Triage and Transfer Center, Upstate Medical University.

Image Credits:

King Joffrey

The Beast, The Dragon and the False Prophet Revelation 16:13 ‘And I saw three unclean spirits like frogs come out of the mouth of the dragon, and out of the mouth of the beast, and out of the mouth of the false prophet’ (‘Et vidi de ore draconis, et de ore bestiæ, et de ore pseudoprophetæ spiritus tres immundos in modum ranarum’). Beatus of Liébana, Commentaria in Apocalypsin (the ‘Beatus of Saint-Sever’), Saint-Sever before 1072. BnF, Latin 8878, fol. 184v

Queck Gorleston Psalter, England 14th century, British Library, Add 49622, fol. 190v

Paschal Lamb Speculum humanae salvationis, Germany ca. 1360, Universitäts- und Landesbibliothek Darmstadt, Hs 2505, fol. 28v

Snail and Strawberries ook of hours, Bruges ca. 1510–1525, Rouen, bibliothèque municipale, ms. 3028, fol. 58v

Frog Monks false prophets
(Revelation 16:13) ‘Queen Mary Apocalypse’, London 14th century. British Library, Royal MS 19 B XV, fol. 30v

Monkey eating a Cookie ‘Oscott Psalter’, England ca. 1265–1270, British Library, Add 50000, fol. 101r

Mussel Hours of Catherine of Cleves, Netherlands ca. 1440. NY, Morgan Library and Museum, MS M.945, p. 244

Firebreather Bartholomeus Anglicus, De proprietatibus rerum (Occitan version), Toulouse ca. 1350. Paris, Bibliothèque Sainte-Geneviève, ms. 1029, fol. 248v

This article was written by Michele Caliva for Inside Job and is not intended to represent the official position of anyone or anything other than the author.

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