Saturday, November 16, 2013


Almost everyone I know has come down with food poisoning at some time or another, many more than once. Yesterday my handyman told me that he had been hospitalized last week. “I ate a bad double-burger at Burger King,” he told me. He still looked a bit weak and pale.

The symptoms struck him two hours after that hamburger meal: a splitting headache, sharp pains in his abdomen, violent vomiting and diarrhea. He is generally a very strong and healthy young man, who does not drink or smoke, exercises a lot and eats reasonably, although he eats most of his meals out and doesn't like fruit. But he told me that the food poisoning last week totally wiped him out. “I can’t imagine someone old or a child getting this, "he said. “I was so ill I thought I was going to die.”

Was it food poisoning? And was the hamburger the cause?

Well, it could have been food poisoning. Certainly the symptoms are fairly typical, although such violent headaches don’t always occur. The doctor who saw him at the hospital also seemed to believe that contaminated food was the cause, although he himself initially had suspected that he had a ruptured appendix because of the sharp pains.

But was it the hamburger that did it? Maybe, or maybe not. Almost everyone that comes down with food poisoning tends to blame the last meal they ate, especially if they ate it out. There is also a tendency to blame the meat ingredient on the plate, as did my handyman. In reality however, it could have been the cheese on the burger or that skimpy lettuce leaf or slice of tomato. That is, if it was the hamburger at all. It could have been something else. In fact, it could have been something he ate more than a month ago!

The problem is that the incubation period for the toxins, chemicals, metals, microorganisms and other nasty things that cause food poisoning varies. It can be as short as 30 minutes(as in the case of the bacterium Staphylococcus aureus, or, some marine and fungal toxins) to as long as 70 days or more as in the case of the bacterium Listeria moncocytogenes that is so common in ready-to-eat foods (see my previous posts).

Let’s just take the case of one bacterium most of us have heard of – Salmonella. Some of the less deadly Salmonella bacteria can make you sick within 6 hours, whereas others, such as Salmonella typhi can take as long as 60 days. Then on top of all this is the fact that how quickly bad food will affect you will depend on your general health, and of course, how much of the contaminant - whatever it is - that you get. All this confuses the picture.

What it boils down to is that it is unlikely that the doctor treating you will know for sure what particular food item or meal caused you to become so ill. The laboratory tests - if they are done - may not turn it up either, since they don't cover all the possibilities/

So was it the hamburger that gave my handyman food poisoning? Who knows. It could have been the tacos he ate for lunch, or the dinner the day before, or the burger the day before that, or.....Who knows.

To your good health,


1 comment:

Health And Safety Consultant Lincolnshire said...

It may sound silly but I never heard of Salmonella. You shared good points and I came to know many new things about food poisoning. Next time I'll include this in my training sessions.

Arnold Brame