Baby gets food poisoning from sushi rice, mum warns other parents

Food poisoning can be harmful to small babies with immature immune systems...

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When a baby starts solids for the first time, it’s an exciting period. Parents enjoy seeing their little ones trying out new foods, and babies love learning about new tastes and textures. It’s true that we like to encourage our little ones to be adventurous with their food. But at the same time, safety must always come first.

One new mum has a very important warning about food safety when it comes to babies, especially when eating out — and she learned this in a scary way. 

Can You Get Salmonella from Raw Fish? Yes… and from Sushi Rice Too

The baby did not get sick from eating raw fish. However, anything in a sushi restaurant is fair game to contamination — including sushi rice, if strict hygiene practices are not followed.

Here’s what Malaysian mum Ms Coco Zhou describes on her Facebook account, translated to English. And yes, it was an absolute ordeal for her. 

My little one has finally been discharged! This time, we learnt a VERY big lesson.

My bundle of joy had contracted a bacterial infection. We found out that she was suffering from symptoms of Salmonellosis, an infection by Salmonella species. 

This bacteria is usually found in meat, fish, and eggs. Generally, cooking food thoroughly is enough to kill the pathogen.

Initially, the bacteria will first have an incubation period of 12-24 hours, after which you will definitely experience fever and diarrhea within 48 hours. A telling sign includes normal stools with transparent, egg-white mucoid substance.

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On May 10, I dined in a sushi restaurant for a meal. My baby just kept on grabbing things, so I chose an egg sushi (refer to the images below) for her to eat, as she has begun eating solids. Please take note, parents!

Can you get salmonella from raw fish? Even non-raw sushi can be contaminated with salmonella.

It was only after the incident that I had a hunch of what happened. I suspect that it was possible for the restaurant staff to have sliced raw fish with gloves.

They probably used the same contaminated gloves to prepare the boxed-rice sushi style for other guests, too.

This way, the pathogens from the raw fish could have been transferred to the top of the sushi rice of other dishes.

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Unfortunately, I just happened to give that to my daughter to eat. I initially thought that eating egg sushi posed no risk to babies since they did not contain raw fish. However, I was mistaken — it turns out that even egg sushi can be problematic.

Fever, Diarrhoea, Chicken Pox: A Mum’s Nightmare

Ms Zhou describes the chronological order of symptoms, as follows:

11 May, 3pm – baby suffered a 38.5 degree fever. Sent her to an emergency department where she was given medicine.

13 May – her fever kept fluctuating up and down. My baby even had diarrhoea – 6 times a day. 

14 May – my baby had slight signs of chicken pox (I had contracted chicken pox before, it must have spread to her). Her body temperature was between 37 to 38 degrees.

15 May – Consulted a doctor, who prescribed medicine. She still had signs of chicken pox, fever, and diarrhoea. At night her fever suddenly rose to 40 degrees. 

16 May – Consulted the doctor again. Today he changed the medication and added an anti-fever anal suppository. 

17 May – In the morning my baby had bloody stools! We rushed her to the hospital immediately, where the doctor said that she needed to be hospitalised. They also ran tests on her blood and faeces. 

20 May – My little bundle of joy was finally discharged after a complete recovery. A few days later, we followed up with the doctor again.  

After this incident, I felt horribly negligent. The food hygiene standards outside really aren’t suitable for babies. Next time, I have to be more cautious. 

The doctor also advised to clean the baby’s bottle with hot water after each use. The meat, eggs fish and vegetables that babies eat must be fully cooked through. 

In addition, babies also aren’t allowed to eat fruit salads, either. Fruits to be eaten should be washed clean. Prior to eating, we also have to ensure that their hands, feet, and mouths are clean, too. 

It just occurred to me suddenly that there is too much bacteria around us, haha. First-time mothers, please take note!

What Can I Do to Protect My Little One? 

Contracting a salmonella infection from a restaurant is rare but possible, as we now know. Food poisoning becomes even more dangerous in babies and young children because their immune systems are still developing. Therefore, their immune system is not as skillful at destroying infections as an adult might be. 

With this in mind, let’s understand which foods are high risk when it comes to food poisoning, and how to better handle, store, and prepare food at home.

Food that Has a High Risk of Salmonella

We know know the answer to the question “Can you get salmonella from raw fish?” is a big “yes.” According to the Australian Food Safety Institute, the following 10 foods are common causes of food poisoning, such as salmonellosis. 

  • Poultry
  • Eggs
  • Leafy greens and vegetables
  • Raw milk (unpasteurised milk)
  • Cheese
  • Sprouts 
  • Seafood 
  • Rice
  • Deli Meats
  • Fruits

This is not to say you should avoid giving these foods to your little ones. But please keep in mind these  guidelines to preparing, storing and handling the food listed above.

These include: 

  • cooking things through, especially poultry, sprouts, eggs and deli meats, as these can contain bacteria that may withstand heating. Also take caution with sprouts, as there isn’t a fool-proof way to rid all the bacteria from it
  • washing vegetables and fruits thoroughly before letting your child eat them raw
  • following strict hygiene rules when handling raw meat, such as using a separate chopping board and disinfecting the sink and any area that comes into contact with it, after the meat is stored
  • avoid letting your baby consume food with under-cooked eggs, like home-made mayonnaise or cake batter 
  • storing food under 5 degrees Celcius, especially cheese, eggs, deli meat, cooked rice and seafood 
  • NEVER feeding  your child raw or unpasteurised milk; untreated milk may be home to harmful bacteria that may cause your child to be very ill
  • using fruit or eggs whose skins/shells are cracked or split — bacteria may enter through these openings
  • purchasing fresh seafood from a trusted supplier; unclean seafood can give your child food poisoning

Handling Baby Food — a Checklist

Eating solid food is a different phase of growth for your baby, and with it comes a new set of rules and challenges.

Parents, are you:

  • storing raw and cooked food in different containers, be it in the fridge or while prepping?
  • using different chopping boards for animal and plant-based food?
  • sure that meat is completely cooked through before eating? 
  • reheating food by reaching a full boil first, and then feeding the baby after it cools to a suitable temperature?
  • feeding your baby food from a jar that hasn’t had its safety lid popped? 
  • throwing away all expired jarred food, or those with rusty lids or chipped glass?
  • Washing all the tools (including utensils and kitchenware) used in handling the baby’s food using soap and hot water?

Parents, do you feed your baby…

  • right out of the container it was originally stored in, and then return said container to a fridge? This may be dangerous as saliva on the spoon can possibly contaminate the food. Consider separating a portion of food in another plate and using a clean, dry  spoon to add milk as needed. Leave the remaining consumables in the fridge and throw away any food left in the bottle or plate. 
  • honey? Honey is dangerous to babies less than a year old as it can contain clostridium botulinum which can cause severe illness or fatality through botulism.
  • store your baby’s dirty diapers in the bag where you carry feeding bottles or food? Avoid doing so to decrease cross-contamination risks.
  • food that has been left at room temperature for over two hours? This could pose a risk of bacterial contamination to the baby.

We at theAsianparent hope this article has been useful, and helps keep your children safe!

 

References: Ms Coco Zhou’s Facebook post, Australian Institute of food safety, CDC

Also read: Baby friendly restaurants in Singapore

                   Food Safety for babies: A comprehensive guide for parents

                   Authorities warn against eating rockmelons infected with salmonella 

                   2 Common foods to avoid feeding your baby