CHRISTMAS and New Years can be a dangerous time.
Despite covid, there are many ways we can be harmed this holiday time of year.
Not that I want to be sad, of course it would be nice if we could enjoy ourselves without walking on eggshells, but it is worth being cautious.
Among the main risks are falling from stairs when turning on lights, slipping on icy sidewalks, and the harmful effects of excess alcohol.
Fire is important, too – you’re 50 percent more likely to be killed by a house fire during the holiday period (think candles and Christmas trees).
Perhaps the top of the list is food poisoning. Interestingly, the summer months are the peak season for food poisoning, but Christmas is not far behind.
It may be too late to change the way you prepare your turkey, but with all the leftovers still lying around, it’s never a bad time to talk about this nasty ailment.
Food poisoning is caused by a large number of pathogens, both bacterial and viral. The Food Standards Agency estimates that there are around 2.4 million cases of food poisoning each year in the UK. In reality, the figure is probably much higher than that.
Although not commonly fatal,
it can still kill, with very young children, the elderly and the immunosuppressed being the most vulnerable. More than 50 people a year die as a result of norovirus, for example.
Even if it doesn’t kill you, it’s not something you want to experience.
The offending bacteria or virus particles enter our body through the mouth or nose and find their way into our digestive system. If they are able to withstand the harsh conditions of our stomach, they will pass into our intestines, which is where their antics will begin.
The virus or bacteria particles multiply and they, or the toxins produced by the bacteria, begin to act on the walls of the intestines, causing our immune system to mount a response. These intestinal walls are generally responsible for absorbing nutrients and water from the intestine and the bloodstream.
With inflammation caused by the body’s immune response, all of this goes out the window, hence the first and foremost symptom of food poisoning: diarrhea.
The water in the intestine has nowhere to go but directly. Watery diarrhea actually helps kill bacteria eventually, but in the process, this leaves us prone to dehydration, which is potentially the biggest risk for a more serious outcome.
Therefore, it is vitally important to hydrate properly when experiencing an episode of food poisoning. Inflammation in the gut also causes abdominal discomfort and cramps, and the general immune response can also lead to fever and headache. Sometimes vomiting can also be a feature.
The cause of this is less obvious, but it is believed that pathogens may somehow trigger nerve pathways that slow the emptying of the stomach and stimulate the muscles to recoil, so to speak, perhaps an automatic response to expel the insects in the way. They came.
One of the problems with food poisoning is often the ease with which it can be transmitted.
Norovirus is perhaps the most notorious here. It can live on surfaces for a long time and it doesn’t take much in terms of volume to trigger an infection.
Norovirus diarrhea contains about five billion norovirus per gram of stool. This is particularly relevant when it comes to our general levels of hygiene. This has certainly improved a bit over the past year, but historically it is not something we in the UK have been that good at.
Various surveys suggest that 10 percent of people don’t wash their hands after using the bathroom, and 90-95 percent of us don’t do it properly.
Another survey found that 43 percent of parents did not wash their hands after changing their baby’s dirty diaper.
I’m not trying to ruin the snack buffet this New Years, but it’s worth thinking about.
Particularly at this time of year, we also think about the way we cook and prepare our food.
A frozen turkey can take up to four days to fully thaw and, if not cooked properly, it can carry the risk of bacterial food poisoning.
In the past salmonella was a common culprit, although there is a new kid on the block these days – campylobacter is estimated to cause around 280,000 cases of food poisoning annually in the UK.
Of course, there are many other criminals, too many to list.
What most of them have in common is their presence in the intestines of most humans and animals as part of the normal flora. (E. coli is another very popular one, also probably the most common cause of urinary tract infections in women due to contamination of the intestine.) These bacteria contaminate raw meat, including poultry, during gutting and dressing procedures. Therefore, cooking meat correctly is extremely important, something our ancestors began to do more than a million years ago.
It also breaks down the proteins in meat, allowing us to chew it more easily and absorb more nutrients and energy.
Since bacteria can multiply rapidly in warmer environments, proper storage and refrigeration are also critical. Make sure your refrigerator is set to 5 ° C or lower. Thaw a chicken or turkey in the refrigerator, placing it on the bottom shelf in case the juices start to drip and contaminate the food underneath.
When preparing meat, use separate containers and don’t cut raw meat on the same board as your veggies, which still does a surprisingly high number of people.
The advice is not to wash poultry before putting them in the oven, this only creates more chances for bacteria to spread to other surfaces, and to wash your hands thoroughly immediately after handling raw meat.
Above all, be sure to cook it until it’s hot and the juices run clear. If you are reheating leftovers, do so within the recommended time frames and again make sure they are piping hot. Improper reheating of previously cooked food is a major source of food poisoning.
Don’t forget also that almost half of food poisoning is caused by fruits, nuts, or vegetables that are past their prime, so don’t buy too much and then feel like you have to eat them.
Food waste is a problem at Christmas with estimates of 10,000 tonnes of edible birds, 96,000 tonnes of carrots and 710,000 tonnes of potatoes thrown away each year in the UK.
If all your precautions fail and you end up succumbing to a nasty bout of food poisoning, the most important thing is hydration. If you are also vomiting, take small, frequent sips of liquid. Try rehydration sachets to make sure your electrolytes stay balanced, and you can even try over-the-counter Imodium to firm your stools.
An episode usually lasts two to ten days, but sometimes it lasts longer. Eventually your body will get over it, but in certain cases antibiotics may have a role to play, although they should not be used routinely.
Particularly in younger children and infants, there may be a transient lactose intolerance for about a month afterward.
Generally speaking, reintroduce dry, natural foods before returning to your normal diet.
If you are about to sit down for the New Years meal, I sincerely apologize. But if any of the above prevents what could happen within the next 72 hours, then maybe you’ll thank me. Happy New Year.