Each year millions of people are sickened by food poisoning. In today's installment of our series on foodborne diseases, we're going to look at Staphylococcus aureus, one of the most troublesome bacteria the world has ever known.
What Is Staphylococcus Aureus?
(Image "scanning electron micrograph of S. aureus, false color added" by CDC uploaded to wikipedia)
Staphylococcus aureus is a tiny bacteria that commonly lives on the skin, nose and, occasionally, the throat of humans and other mammals. Often referred to as "Staph aureus" for short, this particular species is one of the five bacteria most responsible for foodborne illness in the United States, accounting for an estimated 241,148 cases during the past year.
Staph aureus can survive with and without oxygen, making this a particularly nasty critter and worthy of close attention.
How Does Staphylococcus Aureus Make Us Sick?
Although Stap aureus lives on the human body, it can still pose a threat to your health. This is because the germ produces toxins that are harmful to human beings. When this toxin is ingested it causes gastrointestinal illness.
According to health experts, people who become infected with the foodborne disease usually contract it after eating food that is contaminated with Staph aureus bacteria, with onset of symptoms within six hours after infection.
The Food and Drug Administration's Bad Bug Book lists these symptoms of Staphylococcus food poisoning which include:
- stomach cramps
- muscle cramps
- transient changes in pulse and blood pressure
How Can We Protect Ourselves From Staph Aureus?
Unfortunately Staphylococcus aureus can't be killed by heat and can also tolerate salty environments (this last part is important because some people use salt to prevent their food from spoiling). But we can still protect ourselves from this bug. A good place to start is by following these tips recommended by the CDC:
- thoroughly wash your hands with soap and water before handling or preparing food
- avoid food preparation if you have an eye or nose infection
- don't prepare or serve food if you have wounds or infections on your hands and wrists
- thoroughly clean and sanitize the kitchen and areas where food is served
- store cooked food in the refrigerator in wide, shallow containers
- keep hot foods at a minimum temperature of 140 degrees Fahrenheit
- keep cool foods at a temperature at or below 40 degrees Fahrenheit
Though most cases of Staph aureus food poisoning are mild, causing only a few days of discomfort, there's no need to suffer at all if we can avoid infection in the first place.
We'll see you here next week.
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