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Food-Related Illness: Playing It Safe

How Is a Food-Related Infection Detected?

If you suspect a food-related infection, seek medical care. Your doctor may culture a stool sample to identify the bacteria. Treatment may follow, depending on the bacteria and your symptoms.

Experts believe that many people who have diarrhea or vomiting simply assume it's a "virus," and let it run its course instead of getting an accurate diagnosis. For this reason, the Centers for Disease Control estimates that 38 cases of salmonellosis actually occur for every case that is diagnosed and reported to public health authorities.

The good news is that like viruses, most bacterial food poisoning resolves in less than seven days. If you have limited symptoms and are able to keep fluid down, treatment of your symptoms may be sufficient. But if you have blood or mucus in your stools, along with fever, those are signs of bacterial infection. You need medical attention and possibly antibiotic treatment.

Who's at Risk?

If you eat food, you are at risk for food-related illness. While there are more than 250 different types of food-related diseases, this is one common illness you can avoid.Here are 6 tips that can help you protect yourself:

1: Watch What You Buy

Make sure the food you or your parents buy is the freshest available. Check the packages for expiration or "use by" dates, and make sure you will have time to eat the food before it needs to be thrown out. When the use-by date passes, throw the food away to be safe.

Make sure that eggs have no cracks or thin places in the shells. Select cheese that is fresh and has no unusual mold or discolored spots. Dairy products should be dated and pasteurized. Avoid buying fruits or vegetables that are slippery, moldy, or have a funny odor. And never taste fresh fruits or vegetables in the store, as you have no idea what types of germs or pesticides are on them.

2. Always Wash Fresh Fruits and Vegetables (Even If They Come In Prewashed Packages).

Remember the spinach scare across the United States in the fall of 2006 that resulted in several deaths? Fruits and vegetables can have some of the most deadly food-related pathogens, particularly if they are washed or irrigated with water that is contaminated with animal or human feces. These germs can get into fruits and vegetables during processing or packaging. And if the workers who packed the fruits and vegetables into crates are ill, these germs go right onto the foods they are touching.

Scrub all fresh fruits and vegetables to remove germs and avoid illness. This means rewashing any pre-washed, packaged salads before serving, to remove bacteria and pesticides that remain on the leaves.

3. Be Aware of "At Risk" Foods.

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