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How to Avoid Food Poisoning


Despite its name, salmonella doesn't just occur in salmon. It too is a bacteria—a more serious cousin to staphylococcus. Salmonella poisoning occurs in contaminated foods, which might or might not be cooked. It is also linked to poor sanitary conditions. (In other words, avoid food stores swarming with insects, heat, and cooks with dirty hands.)


Salmonella bacteria is most prevalent in undercooked or improperly cleaned or stored poultry, pork, beef, and eggs.

Symptoms of salmonella poisoning usually surface about eight hours after a person eats the bad food. The symptoms are very similar to those of staphylococcal poisoning, but they are much more severe. They include:

  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Fever
  • Chills
  • Severe diarrhea and abdominal cramps
  • Flu-like symptoms
First Things First

How can you tell if the food in a can might have been contaminated? If a can is battered, swollen at the top or bottom, or sold after the “best used by” date, or if it exudes a strong odor when it's opened, you can bet it's probably bad. You should live by the old saying, “When in doubt, throw it out!”

If you think someone might have salmonella poisoning, seek medical help immediately. Then make the person as comfortable as possible. Give him or her only water if requested.


The most devious food poisoning, botulism, is also the most deadly. It is an illness caused by the botulinum bacteria. Symptoms usually don't appear until two days after ingestion—and it can sometimes be difficult to trace back to the contaminated food. Botulism is caused by contamination of canned goods; the botulinum bacteria thrives on improperly packaged food and food that is used after it has “turned bad.” New studies are also revealing that botulism can occur in gourmet hand-flavored bottled oils, in which whole slivers of peppers or herbs are placed in a glass bottle along with the cooking oil.

Before You Put the Band-Aid On

The more acidic the canned food is, the less likely the chance that botulinum bacteria can grow in it. The acid kills the enemy before it has time to get a “podhold.” Thus most canned goods containing tomatoes (such as tomato soup, stewed tomatoes, tomato sauce, and tomato juice) are probably going to be safe.

Botulinum bacteria produces symptoms all its own:

  • Blurriness or dim vision
  • Double vision
  • Heavy eyelids
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Severe fatigue
  • Inability to swallow
  • Garbled speech

If any of these symptoms occur, seek medical assistance immediately. Try to retrace the ill person's routine over the past two days and find the culprit. Finding the food can help the emergency team provide the correct treatment. If the ill person cannot remember what she consumed or if she is too sick to talk, check her appointment book, call her office, and look in the garbage can.

More on: First Aid

Excerpted from The Complete Idiot's Guide to First Aid Basics © 1996 by Stephen J. Rosenberg, M.D. and Karla Dougherty. All rights reserved including the right of reproduction in whole or in part in any form. Used by arrangement with Alpha Books, a member of Penguin Group (USA) Inc.

To order this book visit Amazon's web site or call 1-800-253-6476.


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