Beware, summer can easily spoil your food

Doctors in the UAE have said a spike in stomach-related illnesses can be observed during the hottest months of the year

  
Image used for illustrative purpose. Journalists taste test the plant-based hamburgers during a media tour of Impossible Foods labs and processing plant in Redwood City, California, U.S. October 6, 2016.

Image used for illustrative purpose. Journalists taste test the plant-based hamburgers during a media tour of Impossible Foods labs and processing plant in Redwood City, California, U.S. October 6, 2016.

REUTERS/Beck Diefenbach

Get-togethers during the summer break are not complete without food - potluck dinners, ice cream parties and home-based foodie festivals. But all that fun can turn sour when a bout of food poisoning takes over - and it happens more often than you think.

Doctors in the UAE have said a spike in stomach-related illnesses can be observed during the hottest months of the year. And it can be attributed to poor handling and storage of food.

Dr Abtan Ahmad Al Talaf, consultant gastroenterologist at Medcare Hospital Sharjah, said he comes across an average of 20 to 30 cases of food poisoning every week, excluding patients that go to the emergency room, internal medicine, and general practitioners.

"Stomach illnesses mostly occur after ingesting food or water that has been contaminated by certain germs or toxins. Several different germs can infect a person and cause food poisoning," he said.

"You get food poisoning by consuming food that's contaminated by pathogens, such as viruses, bacteria, or parasites. Unlike flu, symptoms are focused on your gastrointestinal tract and include nausea and vomiting, diarrhoea, abdominal pain, and fever."

Symptoms may become evident shortly after swallowing the contaminated food but, in some cases, it takes days or even weeks, Dr Al Talaf said.

How infection happens

A bacterium called salmonella is among the most common types of food poisoning. This type of infection, called salmonellosis, typically occurs during the summertime, according to Dr Suresh K Menon, internal medicine specialist at Aster Specialty Clinic, Discovery Gardens.

Salmonella is often found in raw or undercooked food, he said.

This is why barbecues, cold buffets, and picnics are optimal environments for salmonella exposure. Poultry, meat, seafood and eggs are examples of foods that may contain the bacteria.

Most pathogens and bacteria grow and multiply in a hot environment, Dr Suresh said.

"This happens especially under temperatures of 24 to 45-degree Centigrade on an average. If the food is kept outside, it is easy for the bacteria to multiply," he added.

Dr Suresh also said cold food items get spoiled the fastest during the hot weather.

Treatment

Most stomach illnesses, according to Dr Talaf, are 'self-healing'. No major medical intervention is required, unless diarrhoea and other symptoms last longer than four weeks.

"You can treat the symptoms of vomiting and diarrhoea at home by staying hydrated. Drink a lot of clear liquids, including sports drinks or oral rehydration solutions. If you can keep food down, a diet of bland food, such as saltine crackers or broths, may be better tolerated," he said.

10 food safety tips to avoid poisoning

1-Carefully wash your hands with soap and water before handling food. It is recommended to wash them frequently during food preparation, especially when you go from one food item to another. Remember that proper handwashing lasts at least 30 seconds.

2-Ensure that raw food items, such as meat, do not come into contact with other raw food during preparation.

3-Clean utensils well and as often as needed, such as after any contact with raw food.

4-Clean work surfaces, such as countertops or cutting boards.

5-Wash fruits and vegetables well under running water before eating them.

6-Avoid non-pasteurised milk and milk products (for example, raw milk cheese).

7-Do not eat raw poultry, meat or eggs. Always ensure that they are sufficiently cooked.

8-Store perishable food in a cooler equipped with a thermometer and keep the temperature at 4.4 degrees Celsius.

9-Keep all food items covered until it is time to prepare or cook them.

10-Check all your ingredients thoroughly and make sure nothing is spoiled

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