Five Myths about Food Poisoning… and How to Cope with It

Food poisoning. It’s guaranteed to secure some awkward guffaws during a comedy movie, but enduring a bout of this bacteria-driven illness is no laughing matter. While most of us know the basics about food poisoning (avoiding raw chicken seems to be at the top of everyone’s list), there are still plenty of myths related to food poisoning floating around.

Here are some of the food poisoning myths we’ve heard frequently, along with the actual facts related to the food poisoning issues in question.

Myth #1: You shouldn’t eat raw cookie dough because of the eggs.

Okay, this one is half-true. Raw eggs can harbor bacteria and you should avoid eating them. However, the villain lurking in your cookie dough is more likely to be raw flour. Flour is typically not treated for bacteria and can be infiltrated by dangerous, even deadly, strains of E. Coli.

The Food and Drug Administration recommends including a “kill step” in any food prep that includes raw flour– that means boiling, microwaving, frying or any other treatment that brings it to a high overall temperature.

What about those raw cookie dough shops popping up at local malls? They typically use a heat-treated flour or a nut-based flour to ensure their dough is safe for consumption.

Myth #2: If you have food poisoning, there’s nothing you can do but wait for it to pass.

Food poisoning is common enough that most of us have been successful (miserable, but successful) with waiting it out and enduring the symptoms for 24 to 48 hours. However, some versions of food poisoning can actually be severe enough to need medical intervention.
As an example, listeria, a bacteria that frequently lurks on processed meats and cheeses, can require hospitalization and intravenous antibiotics. Pregnant women are especially susceptible to listeria and should avoid these foods or seek treatment immediately.

Another potential health hazard related to food poisoning is dehydration. If your stomach is continually being emptied by vomiting or diarrhea, you may not retain the fluids needed to keep your body hydrated.

Try drinking small sips of liquids like water or an electrolyte beverage (like Gatorade or Pedialyte). Slowly consuming ice chips may also help if you’re unable to keep other food or drinks down.

Myth #3: Food poisoning symptoms always occur right after your meal.

Most of us will point to the last meal we had as the culprit when we come down with food poisoning.

Occasionally food poisoning symptoms will occur within a half-hour of consuming the offensive food. However, the reality is that you can harbor bacteria in your body for days or weeks before experiencing the unpleasant effects of food poisoning.

It can be difficult to pin the blame for food poisoning on a specific item, but following the CDC’s recommendations for food safety (listed at the bottom of this article) can help you mitigate food-related risks.

Myth #4: Babies shouldn’t eat peanuts, sesame and other common allergens to avoid food poisoning, allergic reactions or other food-related side effects.

While food tolerances and intolerances vary from child to child and should be discussed with your pediatrician, the top food that’s truly off limits for babies is honey. Babies shouldn’t eat honey before the age of 1, because of the potential to contract a rare but dangerous condition called botulism.

Botulism is caused by exposure to C. botulinum spores, which can multiply in a baby’s intestines and produce a dangerous toxin. If you believe a baby has been exposed to this bacteria, it’s important to seek medical attention immediately.

Myth #5: Mayonnaise is a top food poisoning culprit.

Poor mayonnaise. The creamy condiment is often the scapegoat when it comes to food poisoning at picnics and parties.

However, adding mayonnaise to a dish usually isn’t the driving factor behind whether guests contract a nasty foodborne bacteria. Instead, the culprit at parties, picnics and events is typically the temperature. When food sits out for lengthy periods, it’s not likely to be maintained at an appropriate temperature.

Hot items served at an event should remain at a temperature above 140 ˚F and cold items should remain below 40 ˚F. Food that is available and in the open for guests to enjoy is usually not maintained within the proper temperature range, which can make it a breeding ground for bacteria.

When in doubt about whether something’s been out too long or whether it’s salvageable, play it safe and toss it out. A few extra servings of a dish isn’t worth the potential for hours or days of tummy-twisting misery.

The guidelines for avoiding food poisoning are simple, if you take time to follow them. The CDC recommends this easy-to-remember list: clean, separate, cook and chill:

  • Clean: Keep workspaces and utensils clean and wash often with hot, soapy water.
  • Separate: Keep your produce, meats, eggs, etc., separate from each other throughout the cooking process to avoid cross-contamination.
  • Cook: Bring foods to the proper temperature to kill any germs that may be lurking (this list highlights proper cooking temperatures for a variety of food items).
  • Chill: Refrigerate prepared foods promptly, throw out foods that have been sitting at room temperature too long and thaw foods in a chilled environment in order to slow bacteria growth during the defrosting process.When food poisoning strikes, it can be hard to summon up the energy to leave your house (or, in some unfortunate cases, your bathroom). However, Integra Urgent Care is here if you find yourself battling a foodborne bacteria. Our physicians can help you determine whether you need to just ride it out, or whether we can help you alleviate or manage the debilitating symptoms.
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