Bacteria in holiday food may lead to poisoning

Posted at Dec 10 2014 05:38 PM | Updated as of Dec 12 2014 01:07 AM

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Back-to-back gatherings and parties will certainly be held this Christmas season. During the celebrations, large amounts of food are expected to be served. But experts warn that food prepared in large amounts for occasions must be handled with caution as disease-causing bacteria can easily be spread during gatherings.

Microbiologist Dr. Windell Rivera said, "Staphylococcus aureus napaka-common yan, ito ay madaling kumalat sa handaan (The Staphylococcus aureus bacteria is very common and it can easily be spread in a gathering)."

Staphylococcus aureus is a common type of bacteria usually found in the nose and the surface of the skin. The bacteria can spread through airborne dispersal via coughing or sneezing, through direct contact with infected people's body fluids or sores, or through ingestion.

While mostly harmless outside of the body, the bacteria can be harmful when it or toxins it produces enters the body through cuts and wounds, or ingestion.

Experts said infected persons, particularly food workers, can contaminate food during preparation.

"Mas maraming taong involved sa food preparation, mas mataas yung risk ng contamination. This may cause outbreak sa handaan (The more people are involved during food preparation, the higher the risk of contamination. Hence, a food borne outbreak can occur during a gathering)," Rivera warned.

Unrefrigerated food, milk products, and other improperly handled meals are food types prone to contamination by the toxins produced by this type of bacteria. As the bacteria grows in these food, they produce toxins which may be harmful to the body. Ingesting food contaminated with Staphylococcus aureus toxins can lead to poisoning with symptoms including vomiting, nausea or diarrhea.

Experts added, cuts, wounds and openings in the body could make the body vulnerable to potentially fatal infections. According to Rivera, a person can get bacteremia if Staph bacteria spreads through their bloodstream. Toxic shock syndrome, meanwhile, occurs due to toxins the bacteria produce.

Bacteremia is a bloodstream infection which could cause mild fever, chilling, or gastrointestinal diseases. The disease may be contracted through bacterial infection in the mouth especially if wounds are present. People who recently underwent dental procedures were warned to take caution.

Toxic shock syndrome (TSS) the more harmful and potentially fatal can result to multi-organ failure, experts said. The disease starts by manifesting itself as high fever, rash, or hypertension. Although TSS cannot be transmitted from person-to-person, the Staphylococcus aureus bacteria, along with its toxins can be potentially spread through contact. Experts said infection can happen through wounds in the body. Women who undergo menstruation and use tampons are also prone to the disease.

In order to avoid poisoning and other worse cases, experts said cleanliness during food preparation is key. When preparing food, experts advise using hairnets and face masks. Constant cleaning of nails is advised to prevent unwanted germ build-up. Similarly, constant washing of hands is suggested to avoid cross contamination of the bacteria to food.

Proper storage and thorough cooking must also be practiced in the kitchen to kill a significant amount of bacteria. Finally, maintaining overall cleanliness in the kitchen, including utensils and storage ware, can decrease chances of contracting diseases.