Imagine you go to your doctor’s office or an emergency room with more than just an upset stomach. Your doctor asks you questions, such as, “How long have you been sick?” and “Do you feel like you have a fever?” After more questions, and given your symptoms, your doctor considers that you might have a foodborne illness. Each year, foodborne illnesses, commonly known as food poisoning, affects about 1 in 6 (or 48 million) people in the United States. It can happen anywhere, to anyone, and from foods we might not expect.
Why Does Your Stool Sample Matter?
Your doctor may ask for a sample of “poop,” (or in doctor terms: your feces, or stool). But, only about one in five people already at their doctor’s office with diarrhea will give a stool sample. And, they are more likely to give one if the diarrhea is bloody or has lasted more than three days.
Testing the stool sample is important to track the “who, what, when, where, and why” of foodborne disease. Other people may also be ill with the same germ that you have, because they also ate the same tainted food. It is important that our public health system links people with similar laboratory results. These results can help you, your family, community, and even people in other states. When two or more people become sick from the same contaminated food or drink, the event is called a foodborne outbreak.
What Happens to your Stool Sample?
After you provide a stool sample, your doctor will test it for bacteria in a laboratory. Sometimes testing happens in your doctor’s office or in a commercial lab; or, if an outbreak is suspected, in a public health laboratory.
It can take up to three days to find out why you are sick and even longer for scientists to determine if your illness is part of an outbreak (see graphic).
Scientists in the lab, add your stool sample to a petri dish to start the testing. If bacteria grow--for instance, Salmonella (as shown in the petri dish below)--then the diagnosis is confirmed as positive, or in laboratory-terms, “culture confirmed.” Further lab testing can show which antibiotic medicines can kill it.
Additional testing at a public health lab, reveals the DNA “fingerprint”—the unique genetic code--of the bacteria. It is important for your doctor to know the specific details of the germ that made you sick.
These differences influence how your doctor treats your illness and how bad it might get-. These differences also provide essential information to scientists in public health laboratories. By tracking and finding similar DNA fingerprints of bacteria from sick people, “disease detectives”, or epidemiologists, can connect related-illnesses that could signal an outbreak.
Why is testing the stool sample and tracking foodborne illness important? The 1,000 or more reported outbreaks that happen each year reveal familiar culprits—like Salmonella and other common germs.
Other persons visiting the doctor may also feel sick from tainted food, making it important that our public health system reliably links people with similar lab results. Testing the stool sample is important for the patient, doctor, and public health officials to know if your sickness is connected to other illnesses. Tracking illnesses and investigating outbreaks helps to show how food can be made safer. Even though most people get better without visiting a doctor, CDC estimates that each year 48 million people get sick, 128,000 are hospitalized, and 3,000 die of foodborne diseases.
Testing, detection, and prevention matter. Do the stool sample. It could save your life; and, those of others.
* There are new tests that can be performed right in the doctor’s office, please check back for a later blog post on the pros and cons of these tests.
Ever check out the label on food packages when you’re at the store? Perhaps you do it because for you food safety means, at least in part, limiting calories or sodium or fat. Or maybe you do it because you want to make healthy food choices for your family. Whatever the reason, you are able to do it thanks to the Nutrition Facts label regulation of 1993.
For the last 20 years, the FDA rules for the Nutrition Facts label have made it easier for consumers to compare products and make better informed choices. And the number of consumers who say they utilize the labels continues to grow, with an increase from 44 to 54 percent between 2002 and 2008. If you’re one of them, here are a few tips to help you use the labels more effectively.
- Check the serving size and number of servings. All Nutrition Facts labels are based on one serving but many packages contain more. So, if you eat two servings, the calories, fat and nutrients are doubled.
- Calories count, so pay attention to the amount. Low-fat or fat-free doesn’t necessarily mean calorie-free.
- Know your fats and reduce sodium for your health. Foods low in saturated fat, trans fat and cholesterol help reduce the risk of heart disease. Limiting sodium helps reduce the risk of high blood pressure.
- Learn which carbohydrates can be healthy. Healthy sources like fruit, vegetables, beans, and whole grains can reduce the risk of heart disease and improve digestive functioning. Not so healthy sources, like sugars, add calories but not health-promoting nutrients.
- Know your nutrients. Foods rich in nutrients like potassium, calcium, iron, and vitamins A and C help promote good health and may help protect against disease.
- Use the Percent Daily Values (%DV). The %DV at the bottom of the label helps achieve a balanced diet. The %DV is based on a 2000-calorie diet, so if you are especially active physically or your physical activity is limited you may need more or less.
For more information:
As always, If you have food safety questions, please feel free to contact us at the USDA Meat and Poultry Hotline (1-888-674-6854 toll-free) or online at AskKaren.gov (English or Spanish)
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Super Bowl Sunday is a great American tradition, and a great way to bring together the three Fs: football, friends, and food. Super Bowl Sunday is also the second biggest day to consume food in the United States, only after Thanksgiving.
One of the most popular ways to celebrate is by inviting family and friends to enjoy a buffet. But if cold foods are left out of refrigeration and hot foods sit cooling for too long, you may be leaving the door open for some other, unwanted, guests – bacteria that can cause food poisoning.
Certain foods left at room temperature for more than two hours enter the so called "Danger Zone," between 40°F and 140°F. The "Danger Zone" is the perfect environment for harmful bacteria to grow and multiply. Because the game itself takes about four hours and Super Bowl parties can last for several hours longer it’s important to pay special attention to this on game day.
A lot of food combined with a lot of people who are focused on the big game creates a significant risk of food poisoning – so there’s no better time to pullout the food safety playbook and Check Your Steps.
Always wash your hands before and after handling food. (clean)
Your jersey may have grass stains from the impromptu game in the backyard, but be sure to keep your kitchen, dishes and utensils clean by washing them with hot, soapy water.
Keep raw meat and poultry apart from cooked foods. (separate)
Avoid an offsides penalty. Always serve food on clean plates — not any that previously held raw meat and poultry. Bacteria which may have been present in raw meat juices can cross- contaminate the cooked food to be served.
Cook foods thoroughly to safe minimum internal temperatures. (cook)
- Use a food thermometer to make sure that meat and poultry are safely cooked.
- Divide cooked foods into shallow containers to store in the refrigerator or freezer until serving. This encourages rapid, even cooling. Reheat hot foods to 165 °F after halftime.
- Arrange and serve food on several small platters rather than on one large platter. Keep the rest of the food hot in the oven (set at 200-250 °F) or cold in the refrigerator until serving time. This way, foods will be held at a safe temperature for a longer period of time.
- Replace empty platters rather than adding fresh food to a dish that already had food in it. Many people's hands may have been taking food from the dish, which has also been sitting out at room temperature.
Keep cold foods at 40 °F or colder. (chill)
Keep foods cold by nesting dishes in bowls of ice. Otherwise, use small serving trays and replace them. Remember to refrigerate leftovers within 2 hours.
For more information, view our Parties and Large Groups general information page.
If you have other food safety questions, please feel free to contact us at the USDA Meat and Poultry Hotline (1-888-674-6854 toll-free) or online at AskKaren.gov (English or Spanish)
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Enjoy the game!