Food poisoning, also known as foodborne illness, is an illness that is caused by eating contaminated food.
Infectious organisms — including viruses, bacteria, and parasites — or their toxins are the most frequent causes of food poisoning.
The illness that affects millions of people in the United States each year can especially be caused by Salmonella and E. Coli.
Here is a comparison between Salmonella and E. Coli:
The term Salmonella refers to a group of bacteria which cause Salmonella infection (also referred as salmonellosis) in the intestinal tract.
There are over 2,300 subtypes of the Salmonella enterica bacterium, including Salmonella Agbeni, serovars enteritidis, and typhimurium.
Salmonella bacteria live in the intestinal tract of animals and humans and are excreted in feces.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, salmonellosis causes about 1.4 million illnesses and over 500 deaths in the United States each year.
Salmonellosis commonly results from ingestion of the bacteria from contaminated water, food, or hands. Eggs, meat, or milk are especially high-risk foods.
Also, vegetables and fruits may be contaminated, especially if manure has been used as fertilizer.
Note – if you have this infection you should avoid contact with other people for at least 24 hours after your diarrhea and vomiting stops.
Escherichia coli is a type of bacteria which typically live in the intestines of animals and people.
But, some types of Escherichia coli, especially E. coli O157:H7, can cause an intestinal infection.
More importantly, E. coli 0157:H7 can produce bloody diarrhea due to toxins, especially Shiga toxin which it produces.
Inflammation caused by the toxins is believed to be the cause of hemorrhagic colitis (a form of gastroenteritis). Hemorrhagic colitis is characterized by severe cramping and diarrhea that is initially watery but becomes grossly bloody.
People can become infected by:
- not washing hands after changing diapers or using the bathroom and then eating foods;
- eating contaminated food, like – drinking unpasteurized milk, raw produce items (lettuce and sprouts) or undercooked hamburger;
- touching contaminated objects or surfaces and then putting a contaminated object into their mouth;
- E.coli can be passed to you if you clean up after an infected person and then don’t wash your hands before you touch your mouth;
- contact with farm pets or animals;
- swallowing recreational water (such as – springs, ponds, swimming pools, lakes, streams, rivers, hot tubs, and water park fountains) contaminated with the bacteria.
Common symptoms may include:
- throwing up;
- cramps in your stomach;
- feeling sick to your stomach;
- bloody stools;
- cold and chills.
Note – symptoms develop within 12-72 hours and usually last 4 to 7 days.
Most people get better without medical treatment. But, in some people, diarrhea may be so severe that the patient needs to be hospitalized.
Also, the infection may spread from the intestines to the bloodstream and then to other places in the body.
Signs and symptoms include:
- abdominal cramping, pain or tenderness;
- diarrhea, that may range from mild and watery to severe and bloody.
Note – the signs and symptoms of E. coli O157:H7 infection usually begin 3 or 4 days after exposure to the bacteria. However, you may become ill as soon as one day after to more than a week later.
The symptoms last 5 to 10 days. Occasionally, individuals infected with the bacteria have no symptoms at all, nevertheless, they can still pass the bacteria to others.
Diagnosis is made by detecting Salmonella in a fecal sample using a PCR (polymerase chain reaction) test in a pathology laboratory.
Your healthcare provider will send a sample of your stool to a laboratory to test for the presence of E. coli bacteria.
Most people recover within about a week and don’t need antibiotics.
But, sometimes antibiotics may be prescribed for young children or seniors.
You should drink plenty of fluids like water or oral rehydration drinks.
There is no cure for the infection caused by E. coli O157:H7.
Over-the-counter medications for diarrhea are not recommended since they can slow down the digestive system, undermining the body’s capacity to eliminate the toxins efficiently.
Sufferers should get plenty of rest and drink a lot of fluids to prevent dehydration.
In addition, antibiotics are not advised since they may increase the risk of the hemolytic uremic syndrome.
To prevent the infection, it is recommended to:
- wash raw vegetables and fruits well, and peel them if possible;
- avoid eating raw or barely cooked eggs;
- wash your hands with warm water and soap after touching animals and their bedding;
- don’t eat raw or undercooked pork, beef, or poultry;
- cook each kind of meat to its correct minimum temperature;
- refrigerate food properly, both before cooking it and after serving it;
- wash your hands well with warm water and soap before, and after, handling food;
- do not mix cooked food with raw food or use the same utensils to prepare them;
- keep kitchen surfaces clean before preparing food on them.
Note – when buying eggs, you should make sure they come from a supplier which keeps them refrigerated and stores them at a maximum of 4 degrees Celsius (40 degrees Fahrenheit).
To prevent the infection, it is recommended to:
- not drink unpasteurized milk, juice, or cider;
- wash your hands with warm, soapy water for at least 20 seconds;
- not drink untreated water from streams, ponds, lakes, rivers, or shallow wells;
- wash your hands thoroughly after using the bathroom;
- supervise young children to be sure they correctly wash their hands;
- disinfect surfaces with household bleach after diarrheal or vomiting accidents;
- wash and/or peel vegetables and fruits before eating them;
- wash your hands more often when someone in your household is sick;
- separate raw poultry, meats, and seafood from cooked foods;
- prevent cross-contamination in the kitchen by washing hands, countertops, knives, utensils, cutting boards, and surfaces with soapy water after handling raw foods;
- do not eat hamburgers if they are pink in the middle;
- cook all ground beef to at least 160°F.