Food Poisoning is the Worst. Here’s How to Avoid it

3 min read  |  April 29, 2019  | 

Florida weather means barbecues, road trips, day camp lunches and beach snacks. But how can you make sure your kids, and you, stay food-safe while not spoiling the fun?

We sat down with Jason Stevenson, a registered dietitian nutritionist and director of Nutrition Systems at the University of Miami Health System, to learn how to keep your kids (and you) safe this summer.

What makes children particularly at-risk to food poisoning?

Stevenson: Children have developing immune systems and are prone to dehydration. They are at more risk for the bacterias that cause food-borne illnesses such as E.coli, Shigella, Staph and Salmonella. Infants and toddlers also tend to stick everything in their mouths. School-aged children are less likely to wash their hands regularly.

Besides bacteria, what else could cause food-borne illnesses?

Stevenson: Viruses, molds, toxins, contaminants, and parasites may also be a cause for food poisoning. According to the CDC, these are five top germs, listed by highest risk:

  • Norovirus (58 percent) can be contracted through food such as produce, fresh fruits, shellfish, or from a contaminated person.
  • Salmonella (11 percent) is found in many foods, including chicken, eggs, beef, pork, sprouts, fruits, vegetables, and even processed foods like frozen pot pie or peanut butter.
  • Clostridium perfringens (10 percent) may be found in large cut animal roasts, gravies, or pre-cooked foods.
  • Camplyobacter (nine percent) is mainly found in raw or undercooked poultry, unpasteurized milk, and contaminated water.
  • Staphylococcus aureus (staph) is mainly transmitted from poor hand washing, sliced deli meats/sandwiches, pudding, pastries, and unpasteurized milk products.

Is there a number one food risk for children?

Stevenson: According to the CDC, children under age five are three times more likely to be hospitalized if infected by salmonella. Getting some bad mayonnaise is a common cause. Mayonnaise contains eggs, which could be infected with salmonella. Foods made with mayonnaise also tend to be out too long in what we refer to as the “temperature danger zone,” which is between 40°F and 140°F.  Unrefrigerated foods present the perfect conditions for salmonella to grow. It is recommended to refrigerate all foods after two hours or within one hour if it is hotter than 90 °F.  The “when in doubt, toss it out” rule should be followed.

How can we prevent potential food poisoning?

Stevenson: Prevention is the primary defense. Follow the instructions for proper food preparation, cooking and storage. This includes keeping your cooler in the main air-conditioned part of your car (not in the trunk) when traveling, and never in direct sunlight once at your destination. Teach good hand washing hygiene from an early age. Ensure your children’s vaccinations are kept up regularly. All these things will help decrease risks.

How do you know if you have food poisoning?

Stevenson: Symptoms vary according to the germ and may be mild or severe. Some of the most common are upset stomach, cramps, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, and/or fever.  Unfortunately, depending the cause, symptoms may occur within hours or days after infection, making it difficult to pinpoint the exact cause.

Call your doctor if you or your child experience a high fever (over 101.5°F), blood in stools, frequent vomiting (and the inability to keep liquids down) or have diarrhea for more than three days. If an infant less than three months old develops food poisoning symptoms and/or a fever of 100.4°F or higher, contact a doctor. For babies and children above the age of three months with symptoms and/or a temperature above 102°F, call a doctor.

Natasha Bright is a contributing writer for the UMiami Health News blog. Updates by John Senall.

Tags: food poisoning, food safety, Jason Stevenson, norovirus, Nutrition, salmonella

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