Howdy, Ready Nutrition-reading guys and gals! Today’s article is Part 1 of a series that is going to cover some basics about food poisoning and diarrhea you may face at home, in town, on a camping trip, or during a societal collapse event.
We’re going to throw out some knowledge, here, and some facts to enable you to arm yourselves before these challenges arise. Part 1 is meant to serve as an introduction to food poisoning and diarrhea; this article’s purpose is to provide you with useful basic information that may help.
Food Poisoning and Illness-Producing Organisms
Food poisoning is also referred to as foodborne illness, and it can be defined as any illness arising from the eating of food contaminated by disease, poisons, or chemical toxins (naturally found or man-made). Foodborne illness is a very broad category that encompasses many causes. The information presented here will cover those foodborne illnesses caused by disease-producing organisms, such as bacteria and viruses. The reason for this is that there are too many chemicals to delve into illness caused by toxins whose specificity would call for an exact chemical composition in order to effectively render first aid.
With chemicals, there are comprehensive lists for cleaners, petroleum-based products, etc., called MSDS’s (material safety data sheets) that deal with first aid for that particular chemical/compound. Some of these lists are also partially or fully printed on the container holding the chemical. In such instances, follow the instructions and report the incident to your local poison control center and immediately seek professional medical treatment.
There are several categories of food illness-producing organisms and they are as follows:
- Bacteria: some examples are as follows: Campylobacter jejuni, Salmonella, Escherichia coli O157:H7, and Clostridium perfringens, to name a few.
- Enterotoxins: these are toxins produced by the bacteria (waste or metabolic products) that cause the victim to fall ill even if the bacteria themselves are dead. Examples are Clostridium botulinum and Pseudomonas spp.
- Emerging/newly-discovered bacteria: food illnesses are not easily discernable as to type, and the majority of them (above 90%) are caused by organisms of indeterminate origin.
- Mycotoxins: these poisons are produced by colonies of fungi that contaminate food. There are a slew of different types, and they usually affect the liver.
- Viruses: numerous types, such as Hepatitis A, E, Norovirus and Rotavirus. The viruses are responsible for about 1/3 of all food poisonings in developed nations, with Noroviruses comprising roughly ½ of all of these.
- Parasites: this is a big group. Our friends the helminthes, also known as worms, such as tapeworms (Taenia spp), roundworms, flatworms, and protozoa (such as Giardia and Entamoeba) have been around even before the dinosaurs.
- Naturally-occurring toxins: those produced by plants and mushrooms that become dangerous when certain amounts or types of chemicals are consumed when eating them.
The incubation period regarding foodborne illnesses refers to the time between when the food was consumed to when the victim begins to display signs and symptoms of poisoning. It varies greatly and is specific to the infecting organism and/or toxic plant. Another relevant term is the infectious dose and this refers to the amount consumed that gives rise to the illness. This dose amount is also dependent upon several variables, such as age, sex, and medical condition of the victim.
The Key to Avoiding Foodborne Illnesses is Just That: Prevention
We can increase our chances of dining safely, whether in the restaurant, the campsite, or at home by following several important precautions and avoiding these mistakes:
1) Prepare your food properly. Such a statement sounds simple, but there are several variables that must be considered. An excellent site for in-depth information is: IsItDoneYet.gov. The site gives cooking temperatures and holding times for the preparation of meat, poultry, fish, and egg dishes. Such foods can be huge culprits in fostering foodborne illness by providing a good medium for pathogens to grow if not cooked to proper temperatures. The USDA advises internal cooking temperatures of 145° F for beef, veal, lamb steaks and roasts. 145° F is for fish. 160°F is the recommendation for pork. Ground beef, veal, or lamb should be cooked to 160°F. Egg dishes, cook to 160°F. Finally, turkey, chicken and duck whole, pieces, or ground should be cooked to 165°F. This should clue you in: You need a food thermometer, a good one, stored with extra care and one that is sanitized after each use! (Not after the whole meal is cooked; you can cross-contaminate food by inserting a thermometer in a steak that is uncooked and then reinserting it without cleaning it into the steak when it’s cooked.)
2) Store your food properly. Prior to cooking, your refrigerator should have held your food to a temperature below 40°F. The temperature danger zone is recognized as any perishable food remaining between 40 – 160°F for four (4) hours or greater. Also, you must check your food periodically to ensure lack of spoilage. Discard anything that does not look right, but remember: botulism or salmonella cannot necessarily be detected by sight or smell. When in doubt, discard. Discretion is the better part of valor.
3) Dining outside the home. Joe’s HappyBurger down the street may not appear filthy outwardly, but how many times have you asked to see his most recent inspection grade certificate on the wall? That certificate may appear to hold a grade of “B,” but on closer examination, it turns out to be an “E” with some gravy stains/detritus turning the latter letter into the former. View the local health department certificate with a fine-toothed comb. In addition to the certificate visit the restroom facilities. If they are immaculate, chances are this (combined with a good report card) will show that the staff is conscientious and will not sacrifice good sanitation for speed.
We cannot discuss foodborne illness without mentioning diarrhea, which is a symptom and also a condition in itself…one that can be life threatening if left untreated. Diarrhea is the second most common ailment afflicting people in the United States today, affecting more than three quarters of the population at least once during the course of a year. Technically diarrhea is a symptom of an underlying illness or problem that initiates it. Herein we will examine some of the most common causes of diarrhea and some methods that may help if followed.
Diarrhea is defined as an increase in the volume, wateriness, or frequency of bowel movements. Some common causes are prescription and non-prescription drug use, infections (viral, bacterial, or parasitic), diet, hereditary disorders, and stress. Keep in mind: the diarrhea is the result of an underlying issue, not the cause, although it can progress to become an emergency. Diarrhea is the result of the stool exceeding 90% water content (normal range is about 60-90%). Remember, readers, we covered some of the primary culprits in the article, “Survival Water Fundamentals: 9 Common Waterborne Diseases and How to Treat Them Naturally,” posted 4/3/15 here at Ready Nutrition.
One of the primary emergency situations caused by diarrhea is dehydration. The human body maintains homeostasis, a twenty-dollar term generally meaning “balance,” by continuous circulation and either absorption (as with eating and drinking) or excretion (urination, respiration, or perspiration) of fluids. Your body contains electrolytes, or electrically charged particles, such as sodium and potassium, that enable fluid retention and uptake by your cells. In a situation where you are out backpacking or if in a grid down/end of the world scenario, you are going to be even more challenged to maintain your fluid balance and take in adequate amounts of water.
Diarrhea interferes with the balance that your electrolytes maintain that enable proper “fluid levels” to be maintained in the “motor,” so to speak. Excreting too much water in the stool can cause a loss of valuable salts (salt helps hold water in the body), and bicarbonates (chemicals that help buffer the body’s natural digestive acids). Fluid and electrolyte loss can cause cramps, fatigue, dizziness, and heart problems.
Hydration is key. Within the first 24 hours, you should stay well hydrated. Dr. William Ruderman, M.D., is an expert with the Cleveland Clinic in Fort Lauderdale and he reported, “Sports drinks like Gatorade are especially good, because they replace sugars and electrolytes (potassium and sodium).” He also suggested taking in food that is bland and easily digested. His suggestions included chicken broth, Jell-O, bouillon, and apple juice, and he advised avoiding juices high in citric acid such as orange and grapefruit. Dr. Ruderman also advised taking in at least 6 to 8 ounces of fluids every two hours to maintain proper hydration.
Returning to what was emphasized earlier, the physician and the laboratory are the key elements of identifying the cause of your affliction. The best actions that you can take are preventative in nature, and this involves identifying some risk factors before you become ill. Proper hand washing, cleaning common areas (such as bathrooms and kitchens), and thorough cleansing of used clothing and utensils can prevent infections such as E. coli before they happen. This is extremely important to keep in mind when helping a sick family member.
Along with this it pays to be scrupulously attentive to your surroundings when dining outside of the home. Avoid restaurants with a low (or no) visible sanitation grade by the local health department inspector. Health care professionals recommend hand sanitizer as an adjunct to proper hand washing and hygiene. Another factor to consider along with this is the cleanliness of the water and condition of the local water source.
Diarrhea can result from traveling in an area where water quality may not meet acceptable standards. Water quality is influenced by physical, chemical, and bacteriological characteristics that vary throughout the country. Natural contaminants such as silt, algae, leaves, soil, and salts contaminate surface waters. These waters percolate through soil into the water table, to include aquifers and wells. Mineral and biological contaminants are facts of life, and it was estimated that 10 million people per year succumb to waterborne diseases worldwide. Depending on whether or not you have a well or a municipal water system there are private laboratories that will test your water (for a fee) for bacteria such as E. coli and also for the presence of heavy metals such as arsenic.
The first rule is prevention (with the outlined steps). Also, hand washing is something always preached but seldom followed. Clean those hands before you eat. If you are laid low, give it 24 hours to see if you can pass it through your system by conventional first aid and supportive care measures (proper rest, hydration, and so on). Should it persist, seek prompt professional medical attention. Such is prudent to be able to discern the offending organism and to lay in a proper pharmaceutical treatment.
Returning to what was emphasized earlier, the physician and the laboratory are the key elements of identifying the cause of your affliction. I highly recommend taking the ServSafe course, a one-day course in food preparation and illness prevention offered locally throughout the U.S. in the County Extension Offices, and in the local community colleges. It will run you about $100 and it is a one-day course; however, it is very intensive and you will take a lot away from it, including (if you pass) a certification that you’ve completed it.
So there we have it, Ready Nutrition Readers! I advise you to “tune back in” for Part 2 that will deal with the various pharmaceutical and naturopathic measures for dealing with the “creepy critters” causing the foodborne illnesses. We are also going to “go deeper” with this and outline the specialty diseases most predominantly found in wild game and fish, and how to deal with them/take them into consideration when obtaining and preparing food in the woods. Believe you me; it is a whole different ball game! We’ll tie this in with end-of-the-world / collapse scenario parameters that you may wish to keep in mind. Have a good day and I’ll have Part 2 for you soon!
 United States Department of Agriculture Food Safety and Inspection Service (with hotline:
 Ed. Dr. Beers, Mark H. “The Merck Manual of Medical Information, 2nd Home Ed.” Pocket Books, New York. 2003. p. 754.
 Ibid, p. 754.
 Kirchheimer, Sid. “The Doctors Book of Home Remedies.” Rodale Press, Emmaus, PA 1993. p. 161.
 Ibid, p. 163.
 Campbell, Stu. “The Home Water Supply,” Storey Communications, Inc., Pownal, VT 1991 p. 109.