Botulinum infection

Botulinum infection is a rare, potentially fatal disease associated with improperly canned or stored foods. Handcrafted canned foods are particularly at risk, as are honey, cured meats, fermented, smoked, or salted fish.

Children are most at risk.

Symptoms include cramps, vomiting, trouble breathing, trouble swallowing, double vision, and weakness or paralysis.

If botulinum poisoning is suspected, seek medical attention immediately.

Safety: Do not give raw honey to children under 12 months of age. Throw away bulging cans, leaky containers, food that stinks – or liquids that spill out when opened. Sterilize manual canned food by heating at 121oC for 30 minutes.

Hepatitis A: Improper food processing

Scary diseases from contaminated food – 2

Hepatitis A is a virus that attacks the liver and can cause fever, fatigue, nausea and weight loss. Most infections are mild. The disease can be spread when an infected person does not wash their hands properly, then touches food or things that are put in the mouth.

Outbreaks often originate in employees in a food processing plant or restaurant.

Safety: Get vaccinated against hepatitis A. Check your restaurant’s food safety rating .
Campylobacter: Undercooked Poultry

Scary diseases from contaminated food – 3

Just a single drop of water from raw chicken can cause campylobacter disease – this little-known disease that is the second leading cause of food poisoning in the US.

Symptoms may include fever, abdominal pain, diarrhoea, and vomiting.

Most people recover in less than a week, but the infection can lead to Guillain-Barre syndrome, a rare and serious illness. Guillain-Barre syndrome develops several weeks after diarrhoea and can cause temporary paralysis.

Safety: Avoid cross-contamination by washing hands, cutting boards, dishes and countertops with warm soapy water, after handling raw poultry. Cook poultry to at least 74oC.

Norwalk Virus: Improper Food Processing

Scary diseases from contaminated food – 4

Norovirus is the most common culprit for vomiting and diarrhoea, and usually lasts 24 to 48 hours. Norwalk virus infects food when food handlers fail to wash their hands after using the toilet. Foods like salads or raw shellfish are dangerous because they are not cooked before eating.

Safety: Always wash your hands with hot soapy water for 30 seconds after using the restroom or changing diapers and before handling food.

Vibrio vulnificus: Raw Oysters


Scary diseases from contaminated food – 5

Vibrio vulnificus is a bacterium that lives in warm seawater and can infect bivalves, especially oysters. Infection with V. vulnificus causes the same gastrointestinal symptoms as many other foodborne illnesses, but in people with weakened immune systems it can develop into a life-threatening blood infection.

Safe: Only eat well-cooked bivalves. Frying, baking, boiling, steaming will reduce the risk of infection. Discard those that do not open their shells after cooking.

Clam shell poisoning causes paralysis

Scary diseases from contaminated food – 6

Paralytic bivalve toxicity (PSP) is produced by certain algae. When the algae “bloom” – called a red tide – it produces high levels of toxins and bivalve molluscs can become infected.

Symptoms of PSP include itchy lips and tongue, numbness, shortness of breath, and eventually paralysis.

Death from PSP can occur as soon as 30 minutes after overexposure.

Fortunately, PSP is quite rare.

Scombrotoxin: Fresh Tuna

Scary diseases from contaminated food – 7

Scombrotoxin poisoning is an allergic reaction to eating fish that has begun to spoil. Fish susceptible to scombrotoxin include tuna, mackerel, sardines, and mahi-mahi.

During the early stages of spoilage, bacteria produce histamine in the fish, causing a burning sensation in the mouth, itchy rashes, dizziness, headaches, and diarrhoea. Symptoms usually subside within 4 to 6 hours, and antihistamines can help.

Ciguatera Poisoning: Fish

Scary diseases from contaminated food – 8

Ciguatera poisoning occurs when eating reef fish such as grouper or snapper that has previously eaten certain types of seaweed. Symptoms develop within 6 hours of exposure and may include:

  • • Burning or stinging sensation in the hands or feet
  • • Headache
  • • Nausea, vomiting
  • • Diarrhoea
  • • Illusion
  • • Temperature inversion (hot to the touch, hot to the touch)

There is no cure for ciguatera poisoning, and although the condition usually resolves in days or weeks, neurological symptoms can sometimes persist for years.


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