Thursday, December 8, 2022

Don’t underestimate danger posed by food poisoning

Some people are of the belief that certain foods taste even better if left standing over night. But there is danger lurking.

Many of us do not consider proper food storage; fewer worry about food poisoning.
Bacteria can grow in cooked foods and perishable foods if left standing in typical temperatures for more than two hours or at temperatures over 32 degrees!

And the growth of bacteria can result in the food going bad and eating the food resulting in food borne illnesses or even death!

Food poisoning causes diarrhea, vomiting and abdominal pains, says Dr Alfred Madigele.
“Food poisoning mainly occurs through ingestion of ‘dirty’ or infected food stuff or fluids. Infection can be viral, bacterial, or a result of protozoal infection,” says Dr Madigele.

“Sometimes it can occur through unhygienic practices after coming into contact with someone who has food poisoning. Hence, it is always advisable to wash your hands before handling food or taking your hand to the mouth!”

Dr. Madigele also says that foods and leftovers should be properly covered to avoid possible contamination, or be put in cool places, like in the fridge.

“Warm or moist environments are preferred by bacteria, as they tend to multiply and prosper in such conditions. Even in the fridge foods should not be left for extended periods of time as they can lose the taste or, worse still, go bad. It is always advisable to monitor the temperature of your fridge,” he said.

The Public Health Department’s Food Safety and Quality Management Unit of Botswana’s Ministry of Health recommends that food be stored at 5┬░C 5oC and below or frozen (-18┬░C), depending on the type of food and storage length or, alternatively, storing ready-to-eat foods hot.

The Food Safety Unit says cooked food or leftovers should not be left at room temperatures for more than two hours, adding that food poisoning can spread quickly if unhygienic practices are prevalent.
It further advised that to avoid food poisoning, one should practice good standards of hygiene by covering and storing foods and leftovers properly, cooking food properly, boiling drinking water, if its cleanliness is suspect. The Food Safety Unit urged to always check the expiry date of foods and knowing your consumer rights when buying cooked foods from outlets.

“Improper cooking and handling cooked and precooked foods intended for feeding large groups of people, such as children in schools, the elderly, patients in hospitals, persons in prisons, schools, people attending weddings, funerals or similar occasions sometimes end up with serious mass food poisoning; often experienced during summer,” Botswana’s Food Safety Unit said.

Food poisoning is a public health issue in all countries in the world including Botswana.
The Department of Public Health’s Food Safety and Quality Management Unit told Sunday Standard that at least one percent of all known bacteria are harmful to humans. Citing the most common bacteria that cause food poisoning as Salmonella, Staphylococcus aureus, E. coli, O157:H7, Campylobacter, Shigella, Clostridium perfringens and Clostridium botulinum (C. botulinum) bacteria.

The Unit identifies food poisoning as an “acute illness, which usually includes one or more gastrointestinal symptoms, caused by the recent consumption of food or drink”. It further clarifies that food poisoning can either be caused by bacteria, viruses, parasites, toxins or chemicals that contaminate food.

Pathogenic bacteria food poisoning was cited by the Unit as the most common form of food poisoning.
The Food safety Unit further revealed that in 1998, 300 people were affected by a natural toxin from the Datura (Mokure) that had contaminated sorghum meal in the Moshupa, Kanye and Thamaga areas. The Datura plant contains the toxins atropine and scopolamine. Those who ate the contaminated sorghum are said to have exhibited the following symptoms, on the same day: dizziness, dryness of mouth, headache, mental confusion and hallucination.

“Undercooked food, food cooked too far in advance, food left too long at room temperature, cooked food that is not thoroughly reheated, cross contamination from raw foods, especially meats and poor general hygiene are some of the factors that promote survival and multiplication of bacteria in food,” said The Food Safety Unit. “Bacteria can cause illness and even death if allowed to grow in foods.”

They continued: “Bacteria food poisoning outbreaks are often responsible for emergency closures of learning institutions. Occasionally chemical food poisoning resulting into some deaths has also been reported in schools,” says the Food Safety Unit Unit.

The department did not rule out food poisoning at home, though saying it’s usually “mild”. It, however, highlighted that it could be fatal for infants and young children, the elderly, pregnant women, and people whose immune systems might have been compromised.
For surety, the Food Safety and Quality Management Unit traces food hygiene all the way to the food shelves.
“The first line of prevention is safe grocery shopping. Look at the expiration dates on food packages and do not buy if the product is close to expiring or is expired,” the Food Safety Unit advises. “Do not buy open, torn or leaking packages. Keep meat and poultry separate from other food. Buy the foods that need to be kept cold last.”

Asked about statistics on fatalities from food poisoning in Botswana, the Public Health Department told the Sunday Standard that, “Precise information on food poisoning related deaths is especially difficult to obtain because pathogen-specific surveillance systems rarely collect information on illness outcome. For the immune compromised individuals it is difficult to associate diarrhea deaths with food poisoning only.”

Dr Madigele concurred, “Viral gastroenteritis is the commonest form of food poisoning but it is difficult (to give statistics on fatalities) because of the inherent poor record keeping in Botswana’s health system. A couple of years ago, hundreds of children died all over the country because of gastroenteritis.”

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