Food Poisoning : World Health

Friday was World Health Day honouring the foundation of the World Health Organisation 1in 1948. WHO says that health is ” a state of complete physical, mental and social well being and not merely the absence of disease of infirmity” and that “Health is a fundamental right of all.” This is a goal that is worth remembering and celebrating. The theme this year for world health day was depression but I have chosen to talk on food poisoning.

Food Poisoning!  Is it that big a problem? What causes it and what can be done to prevent it?

When we had a restaurant in NSW I had to undergo certification from the department of health in food preparation and safety standards. This was necessary we were told because of the increasing incidence of food poisoning. Were people were dropping like flies or was this yet another way of wasting a small business owner’s time and money whilst creating employment for yet another public servant. I asked what the statistics were wanting to know how many people died or were hospitalised in NSW from food poisoning. He couldn’t tell me. I wondered whether I, my husband and numerous other people I knew, including perhaps yourselves, were responsible for this sudden supposed jump in people falling victim to off food. Yes I have to admit I have rung an employer in the past claiming to be sick as a result of the Chinese food or the fish and chips I had eaten. It was a common excuse to use to have a day off work.

So just how big a problem is food poisoning? According  to WHO 351,000 people die globally from food poisoning each year. Let’s put that in perspective. 56.5 million people each year die. 1.3 million people die from car accidents, 3 – 4 million from lung problems and over 1 million from malaria. Food poisoning in Australia causes 2.1 million work days lost per year. Between 2001 to 2011 the statistics were showing food poisoning in Australia had increased by 81%. Given these statistics it is worth looking at the causes.

Why does food poisoning occur? There are two main reasons  1) poor hygiene (most common cause) 2) A break in the cold chain that is letting food sit for prolonged periods between preparing and eating without refrigeration.

My husband and I have had 4 restaurants. Two of these on a remote island in the Pacific. When we first arrived on the island of Tanna we had no refrigeration and we managed the cold chain by keeping all our food alive until it was ordered. This caused the odd problem when a chicken proved elusive and the guests watched as our waiter ran around the restaurant , cleaver in hand, chasing the bird. On one occasion our last chicken flew up a tree and even the nimble coconut tree climbing gardeners were unable to catch it.

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© irene waters 2017

Our life became easier when we set up our electrical system allowing us to use refrigeration.

Throughout this time our hygiene was exemplary. A couple of guests concerned with hygiene asked to inspect our kitchen before they would eat the food. During the course of their stay they wanted to try some kava. This was obtained from the only kava bar on the island (elsewhere it was prepared by virgin boys who chewed it and spat it out repeatedly.) The couple enjoyed the kava dreaming and the next night decided to go to the kava bar themselves. They returned soon after leaving, white faced, and said to me “ and we were worried about your kitchen. They were straining the kava  through a pair of used ladies underpants.”

One food we never ate or served in Vanuatu was lettuce. Lettuce is a common cause of food poisoning. The health department in NSW has taken them off the menu in health facilities for this reason as lettuce cannot be boiled. This was good for us in our restaurant as many of the oldies came to us as we served a great salad. Always make sure you wash your salad items.

Other common foods that cause food poisoning are:

Eggs  — always store in the fridge with cooked eggs being safer to eat.

Potatoes – the green tinge on the skin is poisonous and often it will be the chips that cause the problem rather than the fish which gets the blame.

Although I have never been sick from food poisoning we do adhere to maintaining the cold chain and our level of hygiene (although possibly not to the extreme lengths of some). I wonder if perhaps many people remove all germs from their lives and when confronted with them they have no resistance. Perhaps we have that resistance as a result of our time on the island and other travelling we have done. Perhaps that is why when at a friends place for dinner, Roger pulled from his mouth a chewed mess and whispered to me what did I think it was. It was immediately obvious to me that Roger had been munching on a big black cockroach. We both felt sick but even then he did not become ill.

Although it is necessary to be aware of food poisoning, by taking some sensible precautions – hand washing, wiping down benches and other basic hygiene principles and ensuring the proper refrigeration of food, the risks of food poisoning could almost be eradicated. Perhaps a little more difficult to eradicate are people’s need to take that sickie and blame it on the food they have eaten.

About Irene Waters 19 Writer Memoirist

I began my working career as a reluctant potato peeler whilst waiting to commence my training as a student nurse. On completion I worked mainly in intensive care/coronary care; finishing my hospital career as clinical nurse educator in intensive care. A life changing period as a resort owner/manager on the island of Tanna in Vanuatu was followed by recovery time as a farmer at Bucca Wauka. Having discovered I was no farmer and vowing never again to own an animal bigger than myself I took on the Barrington General Store. Here we also ran a five star restaurant. Working the shop of a day 7am - 6pm followed by the restaurant until late was surprisingly more stressful than Tanna. On the sale we decided to retire and renovate our house with the help of a builder friend. Now believing we knew everything about building we set to constructing our own house. Just finished a coal mine decided to set up in our backyard. Definitely time to retire we moved to Queensland. I had been writing a manuscript for some time. In the desire to complete this I enrolled in a post grad certificate in creative Industries which I completed 2013. I followed this by doing a Master of Arts by research graduating in 2017. Now I live to write and write to live.
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9 Responses to Food Poisoning : World Health

  1. Great information—I love good research! I was shocked at the increase of food poisoning between 2001 and 2011. It does make a person wonder about the truthfulness of the subjects. But possibly the research took in actual numbers based on doctor and hospital visits, which would make it more authentic. Remember the days when raw eggs were used in making Ceasar salad? Long gone here in Canada.

    Liked by 2 people

  2. ‘…people remove all germs from their lives and when confronted with them they have no resistance’
    There’s a lot of evidence to support this! Also evidence to suggest that the rise in food allergies in children is the result of this obsession with ‘anti-bacterial’everything.

    Liked by 1 person

    • And asthma as well. There has to be a happy medium. I remember seeing a survey on developed world travellers who succumbed to tummy upsets whilst travelling. Americans and Australians were high on the list whilst the English and French were least likely to become ill. It was put down to the consumption of cheeses and that both countries still hung meat. In fact I stayed with a family in Britain in the 90s that still didn’t own a refrigerator.


  3. This is a wonderful though disturbing article, Irene, well researched and very thought-provoking. I have most definitely suffered food poisoning, once from grocery store sushi, once from chicken probably prepared by folks who hadn’t washed their hands. Most likely have had other experiences as well, but those two stand out. Many cases of mild stomach flu are actually food poisoning.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Charli Mills says:

    Not as many people are aware of basic food cooking and prepping techniques. This is good information to pass along to the less culinary inclined. Safety, even with modern kitchens, still matters.

    Liked by 1 person

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