5 Misconceptions about food poisoning every parent should be aware of
There have been too many cases of food poisoning in Singapore recently...
Food poisoning in Singapore have been on the rise recently. In early November, a local restaurant was suspended after 81 cases of gastroenteritis were reported. One man died as a result. In late November, 190 people fell ill after eating catered food prepared for the Singapore Civil Defence Force’s exhibition at Singapore Expo.
In another case (also in late November), 131 people – including kindergarten pupils and teachers – fell sick after consuming food from a caterer while attending a learning camp. The most recent incident to make the news was when 175 people attending four different events at the same hotel venue fell ill with food poisoning.
Why have there been so many cases of food poisoning in Singapore within the months of November and December alone? We spoke to Dr Eric Wee, Senior Consultant Gastroenterologist from Nobel Gastroenterology Centre (a member of Healthway Medical Group) and here is what he shared.
With the year-end approaching, more Singaporeans are going out to attend events and are being exposed to food outside their homes.
Ultimately, food poisoning stems from a lack of hygiene. “Poor hygiene standards can lead to food contamination and result in food poisoning,” explains Dr Wee.
It is also a busy period and restaurants or caterers might be overwhelmed with the increased demand. “When the orders are overwhelming, food may be prepared very early and stored for a long time. Food that is stored for long periods, reheated and stored under unhygienic conditions pose a risk of being contaminated with bacteria,” says Dr Wee.
- Cooked food is stored for excessively long periods at room temperature
- Stored food is reheated to a temperature which is insufficient to kill bacteria, leading to food poisoning
- Cooked food is stored in an unsuitable environment due to a lack of space, leading to contamination
- Food handlers may overlook food storage and preparation protocols due to the large volume of orders (resource and manpower limitations)
- Excessively long time between food preparation and delivery to the customer
- Using the same cutting board or knife for both raw and cooked food
- When raw meat is stored next to fruits and vegetables or cooked food, resulting in contamination
- When ingredients are washed with contaminated water or come into contact with contaminated utensils
- The kitchen may be contaminated with pests e.g. rats, cockroaches that spread illnesses
- When food handlers fail to practice good personal hygiene, they may transfer bacteria from the toilet onto the food
- Food handlers who are sick and inadvertently contaminate the food during preparation.
Dr Wee cautions that parents should look out for signs of food poisoning, which typically starts with abdominal cramps and pain, fever, nausea, vomiting and diarrhoea. In some cases, there may even be blood in the stool.
Vomiting can be so severe that one is even unable to consume liquids. A combination of severe vomiting and profuse diarrhoea can result in rapid dehydration, lethargy and giddiness with fainting spells.
This is a full scope of the symptoms:
- Severe pain in the tummy
- High fever
- Recurrent vomiting (persistent vomiting for more than a day)
- Unable to even retain liquids
- Presence of blood in the stools
- Features of severe dehydration such as a dry mouth with decreased urination and giddiness spells.
- Feeling confused
- Feeling breathless or having palpitations of the heart.
Besides visiting a doctor, you should also take these steps for yourself or your child if either of you are suffering from food poisoning in Singapore.
1. Stay hydrated. Take small sips of water frequently. Isotonic sports drinks with electrolytes or porridge water are better than drinking plain water alone.
2. Watch what you eat. Avoid spicy food which contains chilli. Also, avoid dairy products such as milk as it can cause diarrhoea. Coffee and tea which have caffeine can aggravate gastric pain.
3. Avoid over eating. Bloating is a common complaint. Do not worry if you are unable to finish a meal. Consuming small meals are perfectly fine. The aim is to have some nutrition without vomiting. Focus more on drinking enough fluids.
4. Have ample rest. Avoid engaging in vigorous activities, which may stress your body, or lead to perspiration and further dehydration.
Hand hygiene is very important when young children are around. Children are often exposed to viral infections at childcare centres and schools. These infections can spread by contact.
If a child is ill with a diarrhoeal illness, a caregiver who is preparing meals also needs to ensure that his or her hands are washed properly before cooking. Additional precautions to take include the following:
- Serve cooked food to young children. Avoid giving them foods which are raw, unless you are sure about the hygiene standards (e.g. sushi, salads)
- Consume food within 2 hours of cooking
- Chill leftovers to less than 4 degrees, keep for less than 3-4 days, and reheat properly before serving to children.
According to the National Environment Agency, foods such as meats, seafood and eggs are at higher risk of contamination if not cooked thoroughly.
Raw fish or shellfish may harbour viruses, bacteria or parasites. Undercooked poultry such as chicken, duck and turkey can be contaminated with the bacteria Campylobacter and Salmonella. Salmonella can also contaminate eggshells and the inside of an egg.
Raw vegetables and fruits have an increased risk of contamination as compared to cooked foods. Bacteria such as E.coli can be present in raw vegetables. Wash salads properly and keep separate from meats.
Don’t store leftovers at room temperature for more than 2 hours. Place it into the refrigerator once cool. Keep food in the refrigerator for only 3 to 4 days. In these situations, you should ensure that the food is properly reheated before consumption.
If the food does not taste or smell right, it is best to discard it. Ensure that your fridge has a temperature below 4 degrees Celsius. Bacteria proliferates if the temperature is any higher. Avoid re-freezing thawed foods, as bacteria can grow rapidly at room temperature.
There are potential pitfalls at all stages of food preparation, from storage to cooking or delivery.
- Hand hygiene is important. Always wash your hands before food preparation and after visiting the toilet.
- Use soap with water when washing your hands.
- Ensure that you wash your utensils properly and store them in a clean manner.
- Wash fruits and vegetables with clean water before eating
- Avoid cross-contamination. Use separate cutting boards and knives for meats and vegetables. Use different cutlery or tongs to handle cooked and uncooked foods.
- Cook food properly and not only till it is warm.
- If cooked food is left uneaten for more than 2 hours, keep it constantly heated at a temperature above 60 degrees Celsius.
- Cover food properly or store it properly during transportation.
- Do not mix cooked and uncooked foods during storage and preparation
- Do not mix raw foods (meats) with cooked foods or vegetables
- Cooked food should not be left for more than 2 hours at room temperature.
Misconception 1: Food that looks clean and tastes normal is clean
Fact: It can be impossible to tell whether food is contaminated with bacteria or viruses by sight alone.
Misconception 2: Food is the cause of the illness
Fact: Sauces, water and ice can be contaminated as well. In developing countries where hygiene standards are lower, diarrhoeal illnesses often happen because of contaminated water and ice.
Misconception 3: A restaurant always serves clean food
Fact: Contaminated food and food poisoning can occur at any food establishment. It all depends on the hygiene standards of the kitchen and whether they adhere to food preparation protocols.
Misconception 4: You need to take antibiotics for food poisoning
Fact: Food poisoning is often due to either a virus or bacteria. In the vast majority of these cases, antibiotics are not needed, even if it is a bacterial infection.
Misconception 5: Worms and parasites are a major cause of food poisoning
Fact: Worms and parasites often cause no symptoms. Many of these organisms go undetected, and will colonise the digestive tract without an acute illness.
Now you know how to prevent food poisoning in Singapore as much as possible from home.