Getting food poisoning, even if it’s an especially mild case, can be one of the most unpleasant things you’re likely to ever experience. Because let’s face it: any time spent in distress in the bathroom is not time well spent, and a case of food poisoning can knock you out for days. So just to get your stomach roiling a little bit, here are five facts about food poisoning that, well, aren’t too pleasant.
There are Five Different Ways to Contract It
Not all food poisoning is the same. In fact, there are five different ways to contract foodborne illness: Eating food that’s spoiled; eating food that’s been contaminated by pathogenic bacteria (like salmonella or E. coli), viruses (like norovirus) or parasites; and eating food that has natural toxins, like poisonous mushrooms.[related]
The Incubation Period Can Leave You Guessing Where it Came From
While certain toxins in food can have you heading for the bathroom an hour after eating something bad, many of the worst forms of foodborne illnesses only present themselves after a lengthy incubation period. Microbes have to pass through the stomach into the intestine and multiply, which can mean that days can pass before the first symptoms present themselves (listeria poisoning can take months to manifest). Because of this, it’s oftentimes impossible to pinpoint what the exact offender was without further investigation.
Just When You Think it’s Over, it Can Get Much Worse
Your first bout of vomiting might empty your stomach of infected food, but by then there’s a good chance that microbes have already made their way into your intestinal walls and begun to multiply. And once they’ve multiplied to the point where symptoms appear, that’s where things get really bad.
The Only Way to Know Something is Safe is to Make it Yourself
If you’re served rotting food, or something that smells really off, clearly you shouldn’t eat it. But in reality, spoilage bacteria is far less likely to make you sick than pathogenic bacteria, which is invisible and flavorless (and comes from sources like unwashed hands and cross-contamination). There’s no way to know for sure that something is safe unless you prepare it yourself.
Only One to Two Percent of Outbreaks Are Detected
We’ll occasionally hear about foodborne illness outbreaks (like the one that destroyed Chipotle’s reputation), but because they’re so hard to trace back to the original offender, and because many people who have a bout of food poisoning aren’t hospitalized, a minute percentage of them are actually detected and reported. There’s a lot more foodborne illness out there than you may think.