Food Poisoning: What Is It And How To Avoid It.

Bodybuilding success is largely dependant on whether one has access to a fresh supply of nutritious foods. Chicken, beef, turkey, and fish are all examples of staple protein sources, designed to build serious muscle if consumed in sufficient quantities.

However, given bodybuilders typically eat considerably more than the average person, as they strive to add mass to their physiques, particular attention should be given to the quality of the foods they ingest.

The aforementioned protein sources are notoriously susceptible to contamination if incorrect preparation processes are followed – one more reason to avoid fast-food restaurants (these are where many of the incidences of food poisoning occur).

In 1993, several children died, and hundreds of people became ill, after eating hamburgers at the popular Jack-in-the-Box restaurant. This event precipitated a beefing up (no pun intended) of the nation’s system of meat and poultry inspection.

However, many instances of food poisoning have occurred since then, underscoring the fact that individuals probably need to be more vigilant when preparing and purchasing foods. Indeed, supposedly fresh foods, in comparison to fast-foods, are not exempt from carrying potentially harmful bacteria – the salmonella harboring in uncooked, store-bought, chicken, being but one example.

Since the Jack-in-the-Box incident, mobility and mortality rates for food poisoning have changed for the better, although the chances of falling ill or dying, from food poisoning are still an unpleasant reality for many.

Consider the following (extracted from the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) 2001 report):

  • Food-borne diseases cause approximately 76 million illnesses, 325,000 hospitalizations, and 5,000 deaths in the United States each year.
  • Identified pathogens account for an estimated 14 million illnesses, 60,000 hospitalizations, and 1,800 deaths.
  • Salmonella, Listeria, and Toxoplasma organisms are responsible for 1,500 deaths.
  • Overall, foodborne diseases appear to cause more illnesses but fewer deaths than previously estimated.

What Is Food Poisoning?

Food that is contaminated by bacteria, bacterial toxins, natural poisons, viruses or harmful chemical substances, and when eaten, may result in food poisoning. Food poisoning is acute and typically characterized by a short incubation period of one week or less.

Symptoms, which vary in degree and combination, include vomiting, diarrhea, headache, abdominal pain, and prostration.

Common Offenders

    • Bacteria and bacterial toxins account for the majority of food-poisoning cases. Some of the more common offenders include:
    1. Salmonella

      This bacterium can be found in raw, or uncooked, foods such as eggs, poultry, meat or unpasteurized milk. It circulates in the intestinal tract of animals and humans, where it can cause the salmonellosis infection, which usually lasts between four to seven days.

      From the milder form of the illness, the average person will recover without treatment. If, however, the infection spreads from the bloodstream to other sites, death can result if medical attention is not immediately sought (Antibiotics are the intervention in this instance).

      The main symptoms of salmonella poisoning include diarrhea, nausea, chills, fever, and headache. The Salmonella germ is actually a group of bacteria, of which there are many different types. Salmonella serotype Typhimurium and Salmonella serotype Enteritidis are the most common in the United States. The elderly, infants and those with impaired immune systems are more likely to experience a severe form of this illness.

    2. Campylobacter

      This spiral-shaped bacterium, found in the intestinal tract of animals and humans appears in raw, or under-cooked, meat, poultry, shellfish, and unpasteurized milk. Campylobacter can be contracted from infected pets, underscoring the importance of hygiene. Symptoms include diarrhea, fever, headache, nausea, and abdominal pain. Diarrhea can be bloody and is often accompanied by both nausea and abdominal pain.

      In persons with compromised immune systems, Campylobacter occasionally spreads to the bloodstream and causes a serious life-threatening infection. However, most people with campylobacter will recover without specific treatment. In more severe cases, antibiotics are used.

      Campylobacter can indeed be extremely dangerous: it is estimated that approximately one in every 1000 reported campylobacteriosis cases leads to Guillain-Barr syndrome, which occurs when a person’s immune system is “triggered to” attack the body’s own nerves, leading to paralysis.

    3. Listeria

      This bacterium can be found in the refrigerator as it thrives in a colder environment, as opposed to many other bacteria – indeed, it will multiply in most environments. Mild, flu-like symptoms are often the first sign of listeriosis. If these symptoms become severe, the illness can prove fatal.

      In the United States, an estimated 2,500 persons become seriously ill with listeriosis each year. Of these, 500 die. Other symptoms include fever, muscle aches, and sometimes gastrointestinal symptoms such as nausea or diarrhea.

      It is especially dangerous to infants, elderly, and pregnant women. If you have symptoms such as fever or stiff neck, consult your doctor. A blood or spinal fluid test (to cultivate the bacteria) will show if you have listeriosis.

    4. Clostridium Botulinum

      Clostridium Botulinum, the cause of botulism (a paralytic illness caused by a toxin produced by this bacteria), is one of the deadliest bacteria and is commonly found in soil.

      Although found primarily in under-cooked vegetables, the spores of the rod-shaped organism may however survive even when food is sufficiently cooked. Sources of botulism include home-canned foods with low acid content, such as asparagus, green beans, beets, and corn.

      There are three kinds of botulism: food-borne, wound and infant. Food-borne botulism is caused by eating foods containing the toxin, wound botulism is caused by a wound infected with the toxin, and infant botulism is caused by consuming the spores of the botulinum bacteria, which then grow in the intestines and release toxin.

      Classic symptoms are blurred vision, drooping eyelids, dry mouth, muscle weakness, and double vision – all symptoms of paralysis caused by the toxin. Symptoms of botulism may occur 18 to 36 hours after eating contaminated food.

    5. E-Coli 0157:H7

      Found in the environment and untreated water, the bacteria E-coli (abbreviation for Escherichia coli) is one of the most common types of contaminants. The serious strains of E-coli, of which there are around five, often prove to be life-threatening.

      The other 1000 or so strains are considered harmless (many of these live in the intestines of healthy humans and animals). Once ingested, E-coli attache themselves to the intestinal wall, where they release a toxin that causes severe abdominal cramping, and watery, often bloody diarrhea.

      Correct hygiene is extremely important in order to prevent the bacteria from spreading, as E-coli can be transmitted from one person to another. E-coli was first recognized as a cause of illness in 1982 when an outbreak of bloody diarrhea was traced to contaminated hamburgers – most infections resulting from E-coli can be attributed to undercooked beef.

      Other sources of infection include swimming in, or drinking sewage-contaminated water, unpasteurized milk and juice, and consumption of lettuce, sprouts, and salami.

      Signs Of Food-Poisoning

      Some salient features of food poisoning, in which underlying causes are suggested:

          • A bloody stool without fecal leukocytes might suggest an enterohemorrhagic E-coli infection.
          • The presence of fever suggests an invasive disease.
          • Diarrhea lasting longer than two weeks is considered chronic and suggests something other than food poisoning.
          • Profuse, whitish stools, suggest cholera or a similar process.
          • Bloating could raise the possibility of giardiasis.
          • Yersinia enterocolitis has symptomology similar to appendicitis.
          • Inflammation of the rectum (implied by cramps in this area following a bowel movement), is suggestive of shigellosis.

      Dehydration is the most common complication with food poisoning and can occur with any of the various forms of food contamination.

      Other, less common, complications include:

        • Bleeding disorders (E-coli mainly).
        • Kidney problems (Shigella and E-coli).
        • Arthritis (Yersinia and Salmonella).
        • Nervous system disorders (Botulism and Campylobacter).
        • Death (botulism, certain mushrooms, and pufferfish).

Causes Of Food-Poisoning

it is estimated that 97% of cases of food poisoning result from improper food handling, with 79% of cases resulting from food prepared in commercial or institutional establishments and 21% from food prepared at home

How To Avoid Food-Poisoning

The three basic rules to avoid food-poisoning are the three-Cs:

  1. Cleanliness
  2. Caution
  3. And Cook until done.

However, although these principals will help to negate any potential problems, as a general rule, avoiding food-poisoning completely is a little more complex.

The following safety tips should ensure one is not afflicted with any symptoms of food poisoning:

  1. The first and probably most obvious, strategy to avoid food-poisoning is to thoroughly cook food. Any meat (poultry and pork in particular) that is pink near the bone, should be cooked until a change in color is observed, or sent back if in a restaurant. All poultry should be cooked at a temperature of 180-degrees F to destroy salmonella and other bacteria.
  2. De-frosted or fresh beef, chicken or other ground meats should be stored in the refrigerator for two days at most. Whole cuts of these types of meat cut need to be stored in the refrigerator for up to five days.
  3. Cooked foods should be eaten immediately. Once hot foods have reached room temperature, microbes that cause disease begin to multiply. Two hours is the maximum length in which these foods can left at air temperature.
  4. Utensils and work areas should be spotless before beginning food preparation. After preparing each food item, utensils and areas should be washed again to avoid cross-contamination. In particular, do not prepare vegetables on the same area on which raw meats have been placed.
  5. Raw eggs can contain salmonella, so it is best not to eat them in this state. Even partially cooked eggs can present a problem.
  6. When cooking hamburgers, ensure the center is grey and juices are running clear. For example, E-coli of fewer than 100-organisms can cause serious illness.
  7. If the meat has been marinating in the refrigerator, ensure the same marinade is not used for basting as this might contribute to cross-contamination.
  8. When bagging groceries, ensure meat and vegetables are not placed together because meat juices could seep out onto the fresh produce. Make sure these are bagged separately.
  9. Wash hands with soapy hot water after handling raw foods. Especially wash hands after using the toilet.
  10. Avoid using hands to mix foods when utensils are available.
  11. At all times, when preparing foods, work with clean hands, fingernails, hair, and clothing.


Food poisoning is often not considered when one contemplates their bodybuilding program. It is, however, crucial for any athlete to know exactly how instances of food-poisoning occur, given their programs center around diet.

Indeed, avoiding the deleterious effects of food-poisoning can save days of frustration. This will obviously positively affect training progress. In some instances of food-poisoning, death can result, and this will certainly curtail training progress.

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