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Food poisoning recently? Sick restaurant workers might be to blame, says CDC

If you eat out at a restaurant or food stand and come down with food poisoning afterward — the food may not be the only thing to blame.

A new report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) out this week summarized data from 800 outbreaks due to foodborne illnesses at U.S. restaurants in 25 states during the years 2017-2019.

The report found that 40% of foodborne outbreaks with an identifiable cause were associated with sick workers — most often due to a virus known as norovirus.

MEAT CONTAMINATED WITH E. COLI COULD CAUSE HALF A MILLION URINARY TRACT INFECTIONS EACH YEAR, STUDY FINDS 

How the germs or toxins are transmitted

Every year approximately 48 million people get sick from foodborne illnesses, with 128,000 of them hospitalized. 

Some 3,000 people die from these diseases, according to the CDC. 

Sometimes food that’s not handled properly contains toxins that originate from a variety of sources. 

Food poisoning occurs when people get sick after swallowing food or drink that is contaminated with germs or toxins, according to Mount Sinai’s website. 

Busy Miami restaurant

A CDC report out this week summarized data from 800 outbreaks due to foodborne illnesses at U.S. restaurants in 25 states during the years 2017-2019. The report found that 40% of foodborne outbreaks with an identifiable cause were associated with sick workers.  (Jeffrey Greenberg/UCG/Universal Images Group via Getty Images)

The germs “can also be transmitted without food [from] person to person if someone hasn’t washed their hands after going to the bathroom,” Weissman added.

Sometimes food that’s not handled properly contains toxins that originate from a variety of sources, not only from bacteria but also chemicals, heavy metals and even fish, such as shellfish, per a public health report.

Antibiotics are not generally helpful in these cases because the underlying cause is the toxin production, which the body is naturally trying to expel.

“Some parasites like giardia and cryptosporidium can also cause food poisoning,” he said.

Woman with stomach pain

The exact symptoms of food poisoning depend on the germ that the person swallows, so the symptoms can range from mild to serious, lasting for a few hours to several days. (iStock)

“There have recently been some multistate outbreaks [due to] salmonella and [hepatitis] A in food.”

He said antibiotics depend on what is causing the food poisoning and reminded they won’t help viruses.

Food poisoning due to a viral cause often results in watery diarrhea, whereas a bacterial cause often causes diarrhea with mucus and blood.

The most common symptoms of food poisoning are gastrointestinal related, including diarrhea, stomach pain, nausea, vomiting and sometimes fever. 

Norovirus can also spread on contaminated surfaces, Weissman added.

Most people get better on their own within one to three days, although they can still spread the virus for a few days after their syndrome is resolved, according to the CDC.

Salmonella

People who are infected with salmonella classically experience diarrhea that sometimes is bloody. They can also complain of a fever and stomach cramps as well as nausea, vomiting or a headache, per the CDC.

Although salmonella is a bacterial infection, most cases get better on their own without antibiotics.

“In some cases, antibiotics can do more harm than good — for example, in some cases of salmonella, it can increase the time that you carry the bacteria,” Weissman said.

Man at doctor

One health professional recommends seeing a doctor if there’s a change in mental status or there’s severe pain — but “in children/infants, my threshold for calling the doctor would be even lower,” he told Fox News Digital.  (iStock)

Being a healthy carrier means the bacteria is inside the patient’s body, but the person does not have any signs or symptoms of disease

When to see a doctor

Make an appointment to see a doctor if you develop bloody diarrhea, start vomiting to the point where you can’t keep liquids down, have a fever higher than 102°F, or continue to have diarrhea for more than three days, the CDC recommends. 

“Handwashing with soap and water for 10-20 seconds especially after using the bathroom and before eating is really important.”

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He recommends rehydrating with oral rehydration solutions or sports drinks but cautions that people may experience vomiting if they drink too much in a short span of time — so people should rehydrate slowly, taking in a teaspoon of liquid every few minutes. 

“Wash hands regularly — hand sanitizer isn’t very good at killing norovirus or a common stool infection called C. diff (Clostridioides difficile), so handwashing with soap and water for 10-20 seconds especially after using the bathroom and before eating is really important,” he added.

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