Food borne illness is an ever-present threat that can be prevented with proper care and handling of food products. Chemicals, heavy metals, parasites, fungi, viruses and bacteria can cause food borne illness. Bacteria related food poisoning is the most common, but fewer than 20 of the many thousands of different bacteria actually are the culprits. Understand the difference between actual "food poisoning" and enteritis, and know the symptoms. Too many cases are mistaken for the flu, and the culprits go undetected. If a restaurant or deli is responsible for an illness, it should be reported to local health authorities.
Food poisoning is caused by ingesting food contaminated with “preformed” toxins. Although cooking destroys the bacteria, the toxin produced is heat stable and may not be destroyed. Staphylococcal food poisoning occurs most often in foods that require hand preparation, such as potato salad, ham salad and sandwich spreads. Sometimes these types of foods are left at room temperature for long periods of time, allowing the bacteria to grow and produce toxin. In food poisoning caused by microbial toxins, organisms that can continue to produce toxin may also be ingested with the toxins. Intestinal tissue damage, kidney and/or liver damage is due to the action of the toxin, so most cases of microbial food poisoning are intoxications rather than infections. Because the toxin is preformed, the onset of symptoms in intoxication is more rapid than in infection. Symptoms include abdominal pain, nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea, but usually not a fever. They appear 1 to 6 hours after ingestion and last up to 8 hours. Bacteria responsible for causing food poisoning include Staphylococcus aureus, Clostridium perfringens, Campylobacter, Clostridium botulinium (botulism), and Bacillus cereus.
Bacterial enteritis is an intestinal “infection,” not an intoxication, as is with food poisoning. The causative bacteria actually invade and damage the intestinal mucosa or deeper tissues. Enteritis that affects mainly the small intestine usually causes diarrhea. Because it is an infection, a fever is present. When the large intestine is affected, the result is often called “Dysentery”, a severe diarrhea and dehydration, and can cause systemic infections. Common enteritis’ include Salmonella, Listeria monocytogenes, Vibrio parahaemolyticus, and Entero-pathogenic Escherichia coli.