Food poisoning is a common and familiar disease during summer, as various infectious bacteria, viruses and parasites thrive at higher temperatures.
The disease is caused by the ingestion of bacterial toxins, but more commonly caught through bacterial invasion into the body. In a sense, the illness is more accurately called bacterial gastrointestinal disease caused by the ingestion of toxic food materials.
According to data from the Ministry of Food and Drug Safety, an average of 113 cases of food poisoning occurred between June and August over last five years since 2014. This means about 40 percent of food poisoning cases take place during the three months of summer.
Many bacterial, viral and parasitic agents cause food poisoning, but the ministry said Escherichia coli (E. coli) is the most commonly found, with E. coli being the cause of 52 percent of food poisoning cases, or 1,568 patients, in the five-year period.
It was followed by campylobacter jejuni, which was the cause of 376 food poisoning cases, salmonella at 320 and vibrio parahaemolyticus at 92.
The food safety ministry said E. coli infections are caused by eating contaminated food such as uncooked cabbage or salad. Symptoms include abdominal cramps, watery or bloody diarrhea and vomiting.
Poultry and eggs can carry salmonella bacteria, causing stomachache, diarrhea, chills and muscle pain. Vibrio parahaemolyticus is transmitted by consumption of raw or undercooked fish or shellfish, and campylobacter jejuni is found on poultry and raw vegetables.
How to avoid food poisoning?
“The best process for food safety is washing hands first before eating or preparing food,” said Shin Young-min, a director of food and safety consumption bureau at the food safety ministry.
Shin said people are advised to wash raw vegetables in running water after soaking them in chlorine-based disinfectant for about five minutes. Even if they are washed thoroughly, vegetables have to be refrigerated under 10 degrees unless they are consumed right away.
Meats and seafood have to be cooked at over 75 degrees, and people are advised to avoid eating raw eggs.
Most symptoms of food poisoning are gone within a few days, although there can be differences depending on what caused the illness, said physician Cha Seong-wook of On Hospital.
“Both vomiting and diarrhea are the process of your body trying to kick out the toxins from those contaminated foods. There are not many things you can do to feel better except staying near the bathroom, but you can take a few measures to shorten your recovery time,” Cha said.
Drinking boiled water with a pinch of salt or sugar helps prevent dehydration. When pain from diarrhea is relieved, eating plain rice congee or lean food is recommended.