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Don’t let food poisoning quell your March Madness

Learn the best practices for how to avoid food poisoning and enjoy the game with tips from HCA Florida Healthcare.

March 20, 2024

Don’t let food poisoning quell your March Madness

The NCAA Tournament is a great time to enjoy watching basketball with family and friends. And naturally, the menu – from wings to pizza to an assortment of dips – is central to any gathering. If you’re planning on hosting or attending a party this season, one thing you don’t want to serve up is food poisoning. 

Unfortunately, foodborne illnesses are extremely common, with the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) estimating around 48 million cases of food poisoning every year. Symptoms can show up hours (or even days) later, which can make tracking outbreaks of foodborne illness challenging. 

“Many of us have had the unpleasant experience of eating something we probably should not have and regretting it later when we experience the GI symptoms that come with food poisoning,” says Dr. Daniel Padron, an emergency room medical director with HCA Florida Healthcare. “However, foodborne illnesses like Salmonella, Campylobacter and Staphylococcus aureus can often be avoided with a few precautions.”

If you’re heading to a party or hosting your own, keep everyone safe from food poisoning with these tips.  

Keep food poisoning off the menu

The viruses and bacteria that cause food poisoning are everywhere and it’s hard to eliminate all risk of foodborne illness. The most common viruses and bacteria causing foodborne illnesses in the US are:

  1. Campylobacter
  2. Clostridium perfringens
  3. Norovirus
  4. Salmonella
  5. Staphylococcus aureus 

Some of these germs, like norovirus, can be passed person-to-person as well as in food, which makes them extra hard to contain. However, you can take simple steps to protect yourself and your guests from taking home an unwanted party favor. 

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends a four-step guide: 

  1. Clean. Wash your hands thoroughly before cooking or eating, and make sure to rinse fruits and vegetables before eating or preparing them. Finally, keep your counters, utensils, cutting boards and serving areas clean, washing any items you used to prepare or serve food immediately after use. 
  2. Separate. Keep raw meat away from the rest of your food, including fruits, vegetables and cooked meat. That includes keeping raw meat sealed in your fridge and using separate cutting boards for preparing raw meat. Also, don’t forget to immediately wash your hands, cutting boards and utensils after handling raw meat.
  3. Cook. Fortunately, many of the germs that cause foodborne illness can’t stand the heat of cooking. Use a kitchen thermometer to cook all meat and seafood to a safe minimum internal temperature.
  4. Chill. Bacteria can multiply quickly at room temperature, so it’s important to refrigerate any perishable food within two hours. Make sure to always thaw frozen food in the refrigerator (never on the counter!). 
  5. Finally, remember to stay home if you’re not feeling well. 

“No one wants to miss the party,” says Dr. Padron. “But being around a group of people when you’re sick increases the risk of getting others sick, either through the food you bring to the party or from direct contact with others.”

When to head to the ER

While most cases of food poisoning cause bothersome symptoms like nausea, vomiting, diarrhea and cramps, most people recover fully on their own. Some patients however, in the case of bacterial infection, may need antibiotics. 

It is important to know, though, that some foodborne illnesses can be extremely dangerous, leading to hospitalizations and death. Pregnant women, infants, the elderly and those with weakened immune systems are generally at higher risk for complications from foodborne illness. These illnesses include Salmonella, norovirus and Campylobacter, but also Listeria, Toxoplasmosis, E. Coli and botulism. 

If you experience the following symptoms, it’s time to head to the emergency room:

  • Blood in your stool or vomit
  • Dehydration
  • Diarrhea lasting longer than three days
  • Fever over 102 degrees
  • Severe abdominal pain
  • Unable to keep fluids down 

If you’re suffering from foodborne illness or other infectious disease, we’re here to help. 

Find an emergency care location near you.

March 20, 2024