When food bites back

How to avoid foodborne illness – and what to do when it strikes

Whether you call it food poisoning, a stomach bug or simply tummy trouble, getting hit with a foodborne illness isn’t fun—and it can even be dangerous. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that 48 million people experience symptoms from foodborne illness every year in America. Of those, 128,000 are hospitalized and 3,000 die, many of them children.

According to Dr. Louise Elaine Vaz, pediatric infectious disease specialist at OHSU Doernbecher Children’s Hospital, the common players like E. coli, campylobacter, salmonella, listeria and norovirus can hit anyone, but younger kids are particularly susceptible. To prevent contamination, Dr. Vaz advises that families watch out for meat and poultry, seafood, and eggs that can be accidentally undercooked, as well as intentionally raw foods like sushi, mayo and raw cookie dough.

So, does Dr. Vaz let her kids lick the beaters?

“I’m more thoughtful about it,” she says. “I don’t live in a bubble, but I am more cautious.”

Dr. Vaz also says to wash produce, and clean kids’ hands after interacting with pets like chickens, goats and reptiles, which can carry diseases like salmonella or E. coli.

If you’re concerned about foodborne illness, talk with your child’s pediatrician or call OHSU Doernbecher Children’s Hospital at 503-346-0640.

Hand washing helps, but it’s likely that no matter how careful you are, your family will get hit someday. Common signs are vomiting and diarrhea – either watery or bloody – and while those symptoms can also accompany other illnesses, you won’t see other flu symptoms like headaches, runny nose or cough with a stomach bug.

Depending on the kind or pathogen (bacteria or virus) your kiddo takes in, the onset can take several hours or up to a couple of days. Supportive care is usually sufficient; ensure your child rests and drinks lots of fluids to prevent dehydration (the most common cause of foodborne illness-related hospitalization), and call your pediatrician for symptoms such as fevers or bloody stool, or if your child doesn’t improve within a few days.

This article was written by Cheryl P. Rose and originally appeared in the Portland Monthly 2018 Kids’ Health Annual magazine.