There is a small amount of people who develop longterm health problems due to food poisoning, but their numbers are growing. Medical experts have looked for the source of specific chronic illnesses over the past ten years. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, these experts have increasingly found links to events of food poisoning, often many years beforehand.
Campylobacter, a bacterium linked to raw chicken, is now identified as a chief cause of sudden acute paralysis known as Guillain-Barre syndrome. Specific strains of salmonella, which is the bacterium involved in the recent outbreak in Mexican raw jalapeno and serrano peppers, can cause arthritis. Also, E. coli O157:H7, a strain of a normally harmless bacterium that lives in animal intestines, can release toxins that can cause hemolytic uremic syndrome, or HUS, a kidney disorder that leads to 25 to 50 percent of cases of kidney failure, high blood pressure and other problems as far off as 10 years later. This is just the start of the many health problems that some people are now associating with food-borne infections.
It is estimated by the CDC that there are 76 million cases of food-borne disease in the U.S. annually. Most of these people experience it only as diarrhea or stomach pain, although an alarming estimation of 5,000 to 9,000 Americans die every year form food poisoning. A small amount of pathogens are accountable for more than 90 percent of these fatalities: listeria, salmonella, noroviruses, toxoplasma, campylobacter and E. coli. Small children, the elderly and those with weakened immune systems are most vulnerable to infection.
For many reasons, the long-term health effects of food-borne infections are difficult to study. It is hard to prove a link between some of these illnesses and later conditions like arthritis and even though there are yearly outbreaks all over the nation, the problem hasn’t received much public attention or funding. In addition, federal health-care privacy laws inhibit researchers from contacting anyone who is not in their direct care.
Because of these laws, STOP is creating a national registry of victims of food-borne disease who would agree to participate in longitudinal studies.
Most of the 76 million cases of food-borne diseases that happen each year in the U.S. cause symptoms like diarrhea and vomiting for the first day or two. It is recommended by the CDC to call your doctor if diarrhea is coupled with a high fever (over 101.5), blood in the stools or extended vomiting that prevents liquids from staying down. A doctor should also be contacted if diarrhea lasts more than three days.
Of course there are things that can be done to reduce the risk of getting food poisoning. Meat and eggs should be cooked thoroughly. Ground beef must reach an internal temperature of 160 degrees and eggs should be cooked until the yolk is firm. Cross contamination can be avoided simply by washing hands, cutting boards and utensils after they have been in contact with raw meat or chicken and before they touch another food. All leftovers should be put in clean containers and refrigerated quickly. Before preparing food, hands need to be washed thoroughly. Remove dirt from fresh fruit and vegetables by running tap water over them and always throw away the outer leaves from a head of lettuce or cabbage.