Foodborne illness can occur at any time of the year, but the holiday season presents increased opportunities to be exposed to foodborne disease. Holiday parties, whether held at a restaurant or at home or offices as pot lucks, and family get togethers can expose people to food that has been improperly cooked, prepared, or stored. Remembering the FDA’s four steps to prevent foodborne illness can help prevent or lessen the risk of exposure:
- Clean: Wash hands frequently while preparing food; keep preparation surfaces clean and wiped down; wash produce before using.
- Separate: Separate raw meats and eggs from other foods, such as produce before using.
- Cook: Make sure foods are cooked to a proper internal temperature.
- Chill: Refrigerate perishable items (within two hours of purchase). Thaw foods appropriately (never at room temperature).
The vast majority of patients with foodborne illness can manage their symptoms at home with rest, fluids, and supportive care. However, the CDC does recommend patients follow up with a physician if symptoms become severe. Severe symptoms include fever of 102, blood stools, diarrhea lasting longer than three days, severe vomiting that limits fluid intake, or signs of dehydration. The FDA recommends following four steps when treating patients with possible food borne illness:
- Suspect: Food borne illness should be suspected in patients reporting gastrointestinal symptoms, vomiting, fever, or lethargy or who report having other risk factors (contact with animals, exposure to sick contacts, eating foods or at a restaurant associated with a known outbreak)
- Identify: Laboratory testing is not always indicated for patients who you suspect food borne illness, but stool cultures should be considered in patients with fever or who are immunocompromised, have bloody stools, or present with severe or persistent symptoms.
- Treat: Treatments can vary widely based on the patient’s symptoms or the etiology of the illness. The CDC offers many resources for the treatment of different food borne pathogens.
- Report: Outbreaks of food borne illness or confirmation of certain pathogens are reportable to most state health departments. (Including Tennessee)
This question was prepared by Kathryn Ryan, PharmD, SPI
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Donna Seger, MD
Tennessee Poison Center
Poison Help Hotline: 1-800-222-1222