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Food-borne illnesses (sometimes called food poisoning) are caused by eating foods contaminated
with pathogens (disease-causing agents) such as viruses,
parasites, bacteria, or fungi. Raw, unwashed, or undercooked foods are at
greatest risk of being contaminated. However, most food-borne illnesses can
be prevented if food is handled properly. Typical symptoms of food-borne illnesses
include nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, abdominal cramps, and sometimes fever.
Infants, the elderly, and people with diabetes, cancer, or AIDS are at an
increased risk because their immune systems may not be functioning properly.
A severe complication of some types of food-borne illness is hemolytic uremic syndrome, a combination of anemia (low red blood cell count), profuse bleeding, and kidney failure.
The September 10, 2003, issue of JAMA includes 2
articles about hemolytic uremic syndromein persons aged 1 month to 18 years.
Preventing food-borne illnesses
Wash your hands thoroughly with soap and water before and after
Wash raw vegetables and fruits with running water before eating
Always clean surfaces like cutting boards that touch raw foods
between each use
Cook meat, poultry, and eggs thoroughly to an internal temperature
of 160° F
Refrigerate (40° F or below) or freeze (0° F or below)
Don't eat perishable foods (meat, poultry, fish, eggs, dairy foods)
if they have been out of refrigeration for more than 2 hours
It is often difficult to distinguish a food-borne illness from other
common causes of vomiting and diarrhea such as viral gastroenteritis (viral infection of the intestinal tract usually lasting a day or
two). If several individuals get sick within a few hours of eating the same
food, a food-borne illness should be considered. If you think you or a family
member may have a food-borne illness, consult your doctor. If you think food
contamination occurred at a restaurant or other food service facility, call
your local health department to investigate.
For more information
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention 800/311-3435http://www.cdc.gov
US Department of Agriculture Food Safety and Inspection Service 800/535-4555http://www.fsis.usda.gov
US Food and Drug Administration 888/INFO-FDA (888/463-6332)http://www.fda.gov
To find this and other Patient Pages,go to the Patient Page link on JAMA's Web site at http://www.jama.com. Many are available
in English and Spanish. A Patient Page on salmonella (a type of bacteria that
can cause food-borne illness) was published in the May 19, 1999, issue, and
one on seafood safety was published in the August 26, 1998, issue.
Sources: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention; US Department of
Agriculture Food Safety and Inspection Service, Center for Food Safety and
Applied Nutrition; US Food and Drug Administration, Center for Food Safety
The JAMA Patient Page is a public service of JAMA. The information and recommendations appearing on this page are appropriate
in most instances, but they are not a substitute for medical diagnosis. For
specific information concerning your personal medical condition, JAMA suggests that you consult your physician. This page may be photocopied
noncommercially by physicians and other health care professionals to share
with patients. Any other print or online reproduction is subject to AMA approval.
To purchase bulk reprints, call 718/946-7424.
TOPIC: FOOD SAFETY
Parmet S, Lynm C, Glass RM. Food-Borne Illnesses. JAMA. 2003;290(10):1408. doi:10.1001/jama.290.10.1285
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