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Food Poisoning
By Dr. James F. Balch M.D.


Food poisoning occurs when a person consumes food containing harmful toxins or microorganisms, usually bacteria. Each year more than 2 million Americans report illnesses that are traced to foods they have eaten. The actual number of food poisoning cases is almost certainly well above that number, however, because people often mistake the symptoms of food poisoning for those of intestinal flu.

Symptoms of food poisoning may include nausea, vomiting, abdominal cramps and diarrhea, even chills, fever, severe headache and worse, lasting from a few hours to a few days. Some types of food poisoning, such as botulism, are more serious, especially for elderly people and children. As many as 9,000 deaths occur annually from all types of food poisoning. In addition, many cases of food poisoning lead to chronic health disorders, such as reactive arthritis and chronic immune deficiency.

Pathogenic and toxigenic organisms-those that can cause disease and those that can produce harmful toxins are silent killers because nothing about the taste, odor, or appearance of the food indicates their presence. All types of bacteria can potentially become toxigenic.

Food Poisoning

There are different types of food poisoning, depending on the agent that causes it.
The most common type is salmonellosis, or Salmonella infection. Salmonella bacteria are part of the natural intestinal flora of many animals. They are easily transmitted through the food supply, the hands of food preparers, and the surfaces of objects such as knives and tabletops.

Salmonella thrive in livestock that have been given antibiotics. More than 50 percent of cattle, poultry, and swine in the United States are given antibiotics in their feed to make them grow faster and to prevent disease in crowded and unsanitary conditions.

At least one-third of all chickens in the United States are infected with Salmonella. Salmonellosis is the leading cause of food poisoning death in America. Symptoms of Salmonella infection can range from mild abdominal pain to severe diarrhea and dehydration to typhoid-like fever. Symptoms usually develop within eight to thirty-six hours of eating contaminated foods. Diarrhea is often the first sign.

Salmonella can also weaken the immune system and cause kidney and cardiovascular damage as well as arthritis. Outbreaks of salmonellosis occur primarily in the warmer months. Most cases are the result of the consumption of contaminated foods, primarily chicken, eggs, beef, and pork products.

People who eat raw or incompletely cooked meats are at greater risk of developing the disorder. Cooks who first handle raw meat or poultry and then handle other foods, without washing their hands in between, endanger others; cooks who lick their hands or fingers after handling raw meat or poultry put themselves at risk of Salmonella infection.

People taking antibiotics are also at greater risk. Antibiotics can effectively treat bacterial infections, but, paradoxically, they can also promote infection by destroying good, competing bacteria and permitting the growth of bacteria that are antibiotic resistant.

In 1985, an outbreak of Salmonella from contaminated milk occurred in five Midwestern states. As a result, 17,000 people became ill and 2 died.

Eggs were once thought to be free of Salmonella; however, there has been a dramatic increase in the number of reported cases of food poisoning from foods containing raw or only partly cooked eggs, particularly in the Northeast. These foods include ice cream, eggnog, Caesar salad dressing, and hollandaise sauce.

Of thirty-five outbreaks of illness that were reported over a recent two-year period and determined to be food poisoning, twenty-four were caused by contaminated eggs or foods containing these infected eggs. Certain strains of bacteria found in eggs are not destroyed if the eggs are poached or prepared over easy or sunny-side up, in addition to other ways.

Salmonellosis as a result of the consumption of raw clams, oysters, and sushi made from raw fish has also been reported. Although this does not occur as often as Salmonella infection from eggs, meat, and poultry, it does happen.

After Salmonella, Staphylococcus aureus is the second most frequent cause of food-borne illness. Staphylococci are responsible for approximately 25 percent of all cases of food poisoning. This microorganism is commonly found in the nose and throat, but if a food product becomes contaminated with it (by being sneezed or coughed on, for example), the bacteria can grow and produce an enterotoxin, a toxin that specifically targets the cells of the intestines. It is this toxin, rather than the bacteria itself, that causes the food poisoning.

Symptoms include diarrhea, nausea, vomiting, abdominal cramps, and prostration, usually beginning from two to eight hours after consumption of the contaminated food.
Staphylococcal toxin is found most often in meat, poultry, egg products, tuna, potato and macaroni salads, and cream-filled pastries.

The bacterium Clostridium botulintim, which commonly inhabits the soil in the form of harmless spores, can cause a particularly dangerous type of food poisoning.

Of the 279 various types of food poisoning, botulism is the among the most severe. It affects the central nervous system. As with Staphylococcus, it is not the bacteria but rather toxins produced by the bacteria that cause the poisoning. The toxins produced by C. botulinum block the transmission of impulses from nerves to muscles, thus paralyzing the muscles. The paralysis often begins with the muscles that are responsible for eye movement, swallowing, and speech, and progresses to those in the torso and the extremities.

Early symptoms of botulism include extreme weakness, double vision, droopy eyelids, and trouble swallowing. These symptoms typically appear twelve to forty-eight hours after ingestion of the contaminated food. Eventually, muscle weakness affecting the entire body, including the muscles required for breathing, can result.
Paralysis and death may occur in severe cases.

Even though the U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC) reported only forty-two cases of botulism in the United States in 1994, it still remains a threat. Botulin toxin has been found in asparagus, beets, corn, stuffed eggplant, smoked and salted fish, green beans, ham, lobster, luncheon meats, mushrooms, peppers, sausage, soups, spinach, and tuna.
Canned foods, especially those canned at home, are particularly prone to contamination with this potentially lethal organism. This is often due to improper canning techniques, usually the failure to use a pressure cooker to seal the jars adequately. A bulging lid or cracked jar can be a sign that the food within is contaminated, but botulism can occur even if a food container shows no signs of damage.

Keeping food at room temperature for prolonged periods can also be a problem. In one reported case, a restaurant allowed a large batch of sautéed onions to be kept out throughout the day, instead of keeping them refrigerated, and small amounts were used as needed. Several people became very ill from botulin toxin in the onions.

Freezing, drying, and treatment with chemicals such as sodium nitrite prevent C. botulinum spores from growing and producing toxins. Although it does not kill the spores themselves, heating food to a temperature of at least 176'F for thirty minutes prevents food poisoning by destroying the lethal toxins.

A microorganism called Campylobacter jejuni, which has long been known to cause illness in cattle, has now been implicated in human illness as well. Many experts believe that the incidence of this infection is much higher than reported, because many people mistake it for a stomach virus.
People tend not to associate their illness with food because it takes three to five days for these bacteria to produce symptoms, which include abdominal cramps, diarrhea, fever, and possibly blood in the stool. C. jejuni can be present in the intestinal tracts of apparently healthy cattle, turkeys, chickens, and sheep, and can be spread to all parts of the meat during the slaughtering process.
Fortunately, heat destroys the bacteria, so it is possible to avoid this type of food poisoning by eating meat only if has been cooked thoroughly.

Giardia lamblia is a protozoan that infects the small intestine.
Giardiasis is associated with the consumption of contaminated water. It can also be transmitted to raw foods that have grown in contaminated water. Cool, moist environments are conducive to the growth of this microorganism.
Symptoms generally occur within one to three weeks of infection and include diarrhea, constipation, abdominal pain, flatulence, loss of appetite, nausea, and vomiting.

Norwalk virus is a very common virus that can be transmitted in food and water, and that causes many cases of diarrhea in both children and adults.

Trichinella spiralis is a roundworm that causes the infection known as trichinosis.
It is most often the result of eating raw or improperly cooked or processed pork or pork products.

Then there is the matter of food preparation.
An increasing number of Americans are simply unaware of the prevalence of potentially dangerous microorganisms in the food supply, and lack knowledge of basic techniques for handling, preparing, and storing food safely.

Most cases of food poisoning are easily preventable, provided you know how. Also, more and more Americans, rather than eating meals prepared at home, purchase ready-made food at restaurants and from takeout establishments. One of the problems with this is that restaurants and food service companies may prepare large servings of turkey, chicken, beef, and other foods, and then leave them out at room temperature.
Keeping food at room temperature encourages the growth of bacteria. C. botulinum, which is sometimes referred to as the "cafeteria germ," and Salmonella often breed in food that has not been cooked properly, or that has not been kept cold or hot enough. If you contract food poisoning, the following supplements should be helpful.

Tips for Preventing Food Poisoning

Here are some fast, easy rules to help prevent food poisoning at home and while eating out

Keep food either hot or cold. Leaving food at room temperature encourages the growth of bacteria.

Set your refrigerator temperature at 40OF or below. Freezers should be set at OOF or below.

Go home directly after grocery shopping, especially in warm weather. Store foods immediately according to the instructions on the labels

Wash kitchen towels and sponges with a bleach-and-water solution (1 part bleach to 20 parts water) daily.

Refrigerate leftovers as soon as possible. Do not refrigerate foods in the same containers they were cooked or served in; transfer leftovers into clean containers so that they will cool more quickly.

Do not leave foods such as mayonnaise, salad dressing, and milk products at room temperature or, worse, out in the sun. Be especially careful at picnics and cookouts.

Cook meat, poultry, and seafood thoroughly. Meats should be cooked to an internal temperature of at least 165 °F.

Do not give honey to a young baby. This can lead to infant botulism, in which botulinal spores colonize the digestive tract and produce botulin toxin there. Honey is safe for babies after age one.

Beware of bulging cans, cracked jars, or loose lids on products. These can indicate botulism. Throw away cans that are bulging, rusted, bent, or sticky. Beware of cracks in jars and leaks in paper packaging, and exercise caution when consuming home-canned foods.

Mold commonly grows on spoiled food products. The following foods should be avoided if mold is growing on them: bacon, bread, cured luncheon meats, soft dairy products, flour, canned ham, hot dogs, dried nuts, peanut buffer, roast poultry, soft vegetables, and whole grains. Throw away any cooked or raw foods that are covered with mold.

Wash your hands before handling food, and after handling raw meat or poultry. Harmful bacteria can be transmitted if you handle food after diapering a baby or blowing your nose.

Before eating out, take 2 garlic tablets to help prevent food poisoning, as well as a product called ACES + Zinc from Carlson Labs to destroy any free radicals created by unknown toxins and oxidized fats in the food.

Keep two cutting boards, one for meat and the other for vegetables. This will prevent the transfer of bacteria from meat to vegetables. At least three times a week, wash your cutting boards with a solution of 1/4 cup of 3-percent hydrogen peroxide and 2 gallons of water. As an alternative, you can use a mixture of 1/2 cup of chlorine bleach and 1 quart of water, then rinse the board thoroughly with clean water.

Exercise caution when eating at restaurants and salad bars. Do not eat at salad bars that do not look fresh and clean or that do not have protective glass over them. Avoid the following foods when eating at salad bars: chicken, fish, creamed foods, foods containing mayonnaise, undercooked foods, and soups that are not kept at near-boiling temperatures.

Eat hamburger and other meats only if they have been cooked at least until they turn brown. Meat or poultry that is even a little pink in color may still harbor bacteria. To ensure that all bacteria have been destroyed, it is best to cook meat until it is well done.

When preparing a chicken or turkey with dressing, do not stuff the bird until you are ready to put it in the oven. Either cook the dressing separately or place it in the poultry immediately before putting it in the oven and then remove it as soon as the bird is done.

Clean any utensil that has come in contact with raw hamburger, poultry, eggs, or seafood. Such utensils should not be allowed to come into contact with other foods until they have been disinfected.

When reheating food, bring it to a rapid boil, if possible, and cook it at that temperature for at least four minutes.

Wash out lunch boxes and Thermos bottles after every use.

Thaw all frozen foods, especially meats and poultry, in the refrigerator.

Never use raw eggs that are cracked.

Keep perishable products refrigerated.


At the first sign of food poisoning, take a dropperful of alcohol free goldenseal extract.
Repeat this every four hours for one day. Goldenseal is a natural antibiotic that aids in reducing bacteria in the colon.

Do not take goldenseal internally on a daily basis for more than one week at a time. Do not use it during pregnancy and use it with caution if you are allergic to ragweed.

Activated Charcoal is excellent at getting rid of poisons
Milk Thistle and red clover aid in liver and blood cleansing.

Use lobelia tea enemas to rid the body of the poison. Adding a dropperful of alcohol-free goldenseal extract to the enema is beneficial as well.

At the first suspicion of food poisoning, protect your immune system by taking 6 charcoal. The agents in this product circulate through the bloodstream and help to neutralize and eliminate poisons.
After six hours, take 6 more tablets.

Consume a lot of quality water to aid in flushing toxins from the system.

Use cleansing enemas to remove toxins from the colon and bloodstream.
If vomiting occurs, make sure that the individual does not choke. If vomiting does not subside in twenty-four hours, collect a sample of the vomit for analysis to aid in pinpointing the cause of the illness.

If you suspect that you have been poisoned by food from a public restaurant or other eating place, contact your local health department right away. It may be possible to save others from food poisoning.

For some cases of poisoning, it may be desirable to induce vomiting to help expel the toxin that is the cause of the problem. Keep syrup of ipecac (available in drugstores) on hand for this purpose. Caution: Syrup of ipecac should be used only at the direction of a physician or poison control center.
If symptoms of food poisoning are severe or prolonged, consult your health care provider.


Have on hand the phone number of your Regional Poison Control Center.
David Hill, a microbiologist at England's University of Wolverhampton, monitored all the bacteria present in the intestines and found that in the presence of garlic, disease causing microbes were eliminated. According to Hill, the sulfur compounds in garlic are the secret weapon that knocks out dangerous bacteria.

It was once believed that nylon or plastic cutting boards were preferable to the wooden variety.
Since then, research has indicated that wood is probably better after all. Researchers have discovered that when cutting boards are contaminated with organisms that can cause food poisoning, almost all the bacteria on the wooden boards die off within three minutes, while almost none die on the plastic ones.

For added security, you can wash your wooden cutting board periodically with hydrogen peroxide and water or a bleach and-water solution.

The overwhelming majority (an estimated 90 percent) of cases of botulism in the United States are attributable to improper home-canning techniques. The best safeguard against this illness is to avoid all home-canned meats, fruits, and vegetables unless they have been prepared in a pressure cooker in scrupulous accordance with the manufacturer's directions.

The old "stovetop" method of home canning is not a reliable way to seal the jar lids properly.
A person who experiences a severe headache and vomiting soon after eating may be suffering from food allergies. Charcoal tablets and a coffee retention enema can help rid the body of substances that cause allergic reactions.

Interestingly, botulin toxin, one of the most potent toxins known to man, has been attracting attention from the medical community as a potential therapeutic tool. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration recently approved the use of a purified form of botulin toxin as a drug to treat two muscle disorders that affect the eyes, blepharospasm (uncontrollable muscle spasms of the eyelids) and strabismus (a tendency of one eye to deviate from parallelism with the other).
A tiny amount of the toxin is injected directly into the muscles to paralyze them, reducing symptoms.


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