Gut Feelings - Food Safety

By Meredith Hitch, MD, Pediatric Gastroenterologist - Dothan Pediatric Subspecialty Clinic

Suns out, buns out. Hot dog and hamburger buns that is. With warmer days ahead, outdoor gatherings and cookouts are around the corner. Summertime always brings the risk of significant illness from poorly-cooked foods or foods left to the heat of the sun and flies.

Foodborne illnesses are preventable. The onset of symptoms may occur within minutes to weeks and are often flu-like – nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, or fever. More significant symptoms are severe dehydration (decreased urine output), weakness, and even bloody vomit or diarrhea. Because symptoms are often flu-like, people may not recognize the illness is caused by harmful bacteria in food. By the time more worrisome symptoms have begun, the individual is often very ill.

Everyone can get sick from a foodborne illness. How sick you get can vary. Some people become ill after ingesting only a few harmful bacteria; others remain symptom free after ingesting thousands, a.k.a. the iron stomach.

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Bacteria and viruses are the most common cause of food poisoning. We all consume a little bit on the daily, but our stomach acid and immune systems fight back. Bacteria or viruses may be present on food at the time of purchase, which is why cleaning produce and meat is important.

To prevent illness, always follow these food safety steps:

  • Clean – Wash hands and surfaces often.
  • Separate – Don’t cross-contaminate.
  • Cook – Cook to proper temperatures, checking with a food thermometer.
  • Chill – Refrigerate promptly.

Bacteria are an important part of our environment and bodies, but when they are in the wrong place at the wrong time in the wrong amount, chaos can ensue. Even safely-cooked and prepared food can become cross-contaminated with pathogens transferred from raw egg products and raw meat, poultry, seafood products and their juices, other contaminated products, or from food handlers with poor personal hygiene. Most cases of foodborne illness can be prevented with proper cooking or processing of food which destroys pathogens.

Bacteria multiply rapidly between 40 and 140 degrees Fahrenheit. To keep food out of this “Danger Zone,” keep cold food cold and hot food hot.

If you experience a foodborne illness, follow these general guidelines:

  1. Preserve the evidence. Wrap the suspect food securely, mark “DANGER,” and freeze it. Save all the packaging materials.
  2. Seek treatment as necessary.

Call the local health department if the suspect food was served at a large gathering, was from a restaurant, or if it is a commercial product.

Meredith Hitch
Author: Meredith Hitch

Dr. Meredith Hitch is a Pediatric Gastroenterologist licensed by the Alabama Board of Medical Examiners and certified by the Pediatric Gastroenterology Medical Board of the American Board of Pediatrics. Dr. Hitch received her Doctor of Medicine degree from St. George’s University School of Medicine, Grenada, West Indies and completed her Pediatric Residency Program at Kosair Children’s Hospital in Louisville, Kentucky. Following her Pediatric Residency, Dr. Hitch completed a three-year Pediatric Gastroenterology Fellowship at St. Louis Children’s Hospital. Upon completion of her Pediatric Gastroenterology Fellowship, Dr. Hitch joined the UAB Division of Pediatric Gastroenterology, Hepatology, and Nutrition at Children’s of Alabama in Birmingham. Most recently, Dr. Hitch served as a member of the Pediatric Gastroenterology Medical Staff at Our Lady of the Lake Children’s Health in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. In November 2019, Dothan Pediatric Healthcare Network welcomed Dr. Hitch as a physician at Dothan Pediatric Subspecialty Clinic. Dr. Hitch’s clinical interests include functional GI disorders, eosinophilic esophagitis, constipation, fatty liver, and obesity.

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Gut Feelings – Food Safety

by Meredith Hitch time to read: 3 min