The Environmental Health Division of the Henry and Stark County Health
Department notes that according to the Centers for Disease Control and
Prevention (CDC), "76 million Americans contract foodborne diseases every
year, affecting more people than the common cold." But many of the symptoms
of food poisoning mimic those of the garden-variety flu, sometimes leaving
people to wonder if the cause was the food they ate or a virus they picked
up along the way.
Despite the prevalence of foodborne illnesses, it can be hard to
recognize them. Like people with the "stomach flu," those with foodborne
illness usually suffer from vomiting, diarrhea and abdominal pain. Dorothy
David, Director of Environmental Health Services with the Health Department
states, " There's no real easy way to distinguish between many types of
foodborne illness and a flu bug, but with the flu, one might be more apt to
see generalized aches and pains and just overall not feeling well."
The telltale sign of food poisoning is usually the quick onset of the
symptoms. Foodborne illnesses are, by and large, illness that occur in
close proximity to exposure. If a large number of people have the same
symptoms at the same time, then the cause is most likely food poisoning.
However, if people are ill at different times their symptoms are more likely
to be flu-related, as it takes time to pass the virus from person to person.
David adds, "Though most foodborne disease outbreaks don't occur during
the holidays (they occur most often in the summer), the holidays warrant
special attention because certain foods and food practices popular during
the season can increase the risk for foodborne illness."
The Health Department staff offers the following food safety
* Clean: Wash hands and food -contact surfaces often. Bacteria can spread
throughout the kitchen and get onto cutting boards, knives, sponges, and
* Separate: Don't cross-contaminate. Don't let bacteria spread from one
food product to another. This is especially true for raw meat, poultry and
seafood. Experts caution to keep these foods and their juices away from
* Cook: Cook to proper temperatures. Foods are properly cooked when they
are heated for a long enough time and at a high enough temperature to kill
the harmful bacteria that cause foodborne illness.
* Chill: Refrigerate promptly. Public health officials advise consumers to
refrigerate foods quickly because rapid cooling to 41 degrees slows the
growth of harmful bacteria. Refrigerators should be set at 41 degrees
Fahrenheit and the freezer at 0 degrees, and the accuracy of the settings
should be checked occasionally with a thermometer.
According to David, "The holidays don't always make it easy for food
handlers to follow this advice. One reason is that people get caught up in
the hectic pace of the holiday season. People get sloppy. They're busy,
and they lose the vigilance that they might follow at other times of the
year. The traditional advice should always be applied: Keep hot foods hot
and cold foods cold."
For more information on food safety you may contact the Health
Department at (309) 852-0197 (Henry) or (309) 852-3115 (Stark) or visit our
website at www.henrystarkhealth.com or find us on Facebook at Henry and
Stark County Health Departments.