In Hawai’i, no matter the holiday or occasion, there’s always a spread of pūpūs, small appetizers and finger foods that typically include spicy ahi poke, shoyu edamame and other local favorites. As my grandma says, “Everything is so ono (delicious)!”
Leftovers are often packed as a convenient meal or snack for the next day. But if it’s not cooked thoroughly or stored in the refrigerator quickly, leftover food may cause you to become sick. When you get sick from eating spoiled food, it’s called food poisoning.
Eating food contaminated by pathogens, or the toxins certain pathogens produce, is what causes food poisoning. Pathogenic microorganisms may contaminate food at any point between the growing of raw products on a farm and serving meals at the table.
Virulent strains of certain bacteria such as E. coli or salmonella are among the common causes of food poisoning, and we sometimes hear about outbreaks in the news. When perishable foods are contaminated with bacteria and kept at unsafe temperatures for extended periods of time, the bacteria feast on the food and multiply very quickly. Then, when we eat the contaminated food, the bacteria enter our body and attack our intestines.
The bacteria can kill the cells of our intestines before spreading and infecting surrounding cells. Some bacteria also produce special toxins that target the cells of the intestines, which can lead to fluid and electrolyte imbalances and disrupt the normal function of the intestines. In this situation, your intestines may not absorb water or water mayleak out of the intestines, which leads to diarrhea and abdominal pain. You may also experience nausea and vomiting because your body is trying to get rid of the bacteria.
Fortunately, there are a few simple and easy preventive measures to reduce the risk of food poisoning:
- Maintain good hygiene with proper handwashing before and while you prepare food.
- Thaw frozen foods safely—especially your holiday turkey.
- Cook food to a safe temperature and for the appropriate amount of time.
- Keep food out of the “danger zone” temperature range that allows bacteria to grow quickly.
- Store leftovers in the refrigerator within two hours.
These tips can help you enjoy your meals without letting food poisoning ruin your holidays.
Colby Watase is a biomedical research technician at Tripler Army Medical Center in Honolulu. Watase completed his bachelor’s degree in microbiology at the University of Hawai’i at Mānoa and plans to pursue medical school. The views expressed in this blog post are those of the author and do not reflect the official policy or position of the U.S. Department of the Army, U.S. Department of Defense or the U.S. government.