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Send Pathogens Packing! Getting a Handle on Food Poisoning

Medically reviewed by Kevin Tin, MD, Priti Parekh, MD, Susan Kerrigan, MD and Marianne Madsen on March 17, 2023

The most likely source of food poisoning is eating out and, according to the CDC, accounts for 80% of cases. We’re all familiar with the symptoms; abdominal cramps, fever, diarrhea, and long nights bent over the toilet. Knowing how the germs that cause food poisoning are spread can be the key to avoiding this unpleasant outcome.


Transportation of Bacteria Through Touch


Is the food itself always the source of your sickness? New and compelling evidence suggests that it can actually be surfaces such as a doorknob or light switch that can be the place where germs are spread. Unpleasant to visualize, but if an individual has not washed their hands after going to the bathroom, illness can be spread via the fecal-oral route. So it’s not always the person handling your food who might infect you. 


Your Makeup?


A recent study done in Aston University suggests that makeup surfaces can actually become breeding grounds for dangerous E. coli and staphylococcus bacteria, with increased risk when contact occurs near the eye, mouth, or an open wound. In the most severe cases, this can result in a reaction ranging from a mild skin infection to blood poisoning, or what we call bacteremia.  It was found that between 70-90% of all used products were affected to some degree. An astonishing 93% of beauty blenders, such as makeup sponges or other types of applicators, in the study were not cleaned and 64% were dropped on the floor and used again.


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IBS - Infections

IBS - Infections

Recreational Water Venues


Spoiler alert: You may (or may not) want to know the following. Whether you’re someone who enters the swimming pool via a graceful swan dive or if you prefer the “cannonball” mode of entry, you may want to keep the song title “Our Lips Are Sealed” in mind as you do.


A report published in July 2019 documents incidents of cryptosporidium, giardia, shigella, norovirus, and E. coli to not only be present from minutes to days in swimming pools, but that some had a high tolerance to chlorine, causing illness in infected individuals for up to 2-3 weeks. Pool water entering the mouth, even in small amounts, is enough to get you infected.  Soiled swimming diapers or kids (and adults) with an active infection up to two weeks prior to going in the water are able to transmit infection to others. According to the CDC, one diarrheal incident in a recreational body of water from only one person could successfully contaminate the water within a large pool system or waterpark. Is this going to stop most of us from enjoying the pleasures of swimming? Probably not. However, it’s always good to keep in mind that showering before swimming, changing waterproof diapers regularly, and not entering a pool when sick or just after being sick are some steps people can take for the sake of public health.


What about Hand Sanitizer? 


Hand sanitizer has become a quick fix when faced with limited access to facilities. However, it’s efficiency is really dependent on proper use–if your hands have dirt or grease on them, it’s efficacy is lessened. In addition, all crevices must be covered in order for your hands to be considered “sanitized.” It’s also good to remember that while alcohol-based sanitizer can eradicate most germs, it can’t kill them all. This leaves the old fashioned alternative–effective hand washing–as your best insurance.   

Best Practices to Employ


Most infections of this type are preventable. Being mindful of any known outstanding health violations when choosing an eatery, exercising discretion with regards to touching surfaces unnecessarily in public toilets, and doing your own part to prevent the spread of these pathogens when one is employed in food service can go a long way. Of course, sanitizing surfaces and cleaning linens at home is also recommended to prevent further spread of bacteria when someone at home is sick.


Now That You have Food Poisoning, Are There Any Natural Remedies You Can Take?


Research indicates that pomegranates and their extracts can serve as natural alternatives to treat the symptoms and spread of foodborne and other gut bacteria.  A collaborative study with Rutgers University and the University of Tennessee show positive clinical results using pomegranates for the suppression of oral bacteria. Indeed, it shows additional evidence for pomegranates’ antibacterial and antiviral properties against foodborne pathogens and other infectious disease organisms. Included in the list of pathogens positively affected were salmonella, vibrio cholerae, shigella, and listeria.


Will you ever be able to happily eat out or swim again?  


If you or anyone you know has experienced food poisoning, the unpleasant memories often linger for years to come.  However, despite the fact that those below the age of five, those experiencing severe symptoms, the elderly, and pregnant women are advised to seek immediate medical treatment, for the rest of us, it passes within a couple of days. Ultimately, life is about balance. While we don’t want to miss out on certain pleasures like swimming, eating out, or buying makeup, being mindful of how germs are spread can go a long way. 

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