Watch What You Put in Your Mouth!


I rarely eat at the hospital’s cafeteria because making your own food is 1) generally healthier (I also don’t trust myself to make the healthiest choices after not eating for hours, which can often be the case), and 2) cheaper .

Coming off a long weekend at home, I hadn’t had time to run to the store for groceries and I was on call Tuesday night, so between class and meeting the residents for sign-out to the other residents on night float, I settled for a quick chicken sandwich in the caf. Or rather, the chicken sandwich of doom. Within two and a half hours, I asked to be excused home, was throwing up, and, with stomach pains like I had never experienced before, regretting that seemingly innocent dinner decision.

Ah, the joys of food poisoning. The laundry list of symptoms: nausea! vomiting! abdominal pain! diarrhea! fever! headaches! Lucky me, I had it all! Which made me think, gee, I should share what’s going on in my life with the blogging world. Or at least share some more about food poisoning, something that affects an estimated 48 million of us each year.

There are nearly 200 known microbes that can cause food poisoning. While most cases are self-limited and resolve over time without any antibiotics or special treatment, some bacteria (such as Clostridium botulinum, Listeria, certain strains of E. coli, and Salmonella), can actually (although rarely) cause death. While a stool culture and other lab tests can pinpoint exactly what is causing your vomiting or diarrhea, this often isn’t necessary.

Based on a thorough history, focusing on what the patient ate, the time course the symptoms, and what his or her symptoms actually are (vomiting vs. diarrhea, which can be watery, bloody, or inflammatory), it’s possible to predict what the specific pathogen causing your awful symptoms is. For example, vomiting is the common presentation of food poisoning caused by eating Bacillus cereus-infected reheated rice, while while Staph aureus is found in dairy, produce, meats, eggs, and veggies (think potato salad at a family picnic that’s been sitting out too long…yum!).

To prevent food poisoning, anyone handling food should always wash their hands, especially after using the bathroom. Also, the world will severely judge you if you don’t.