Flu, Food Safety, and Fictions

In the food industry we know that foodborne illness is a serious issue. Understanding potential customer complaints and feeling secure in fulfilling your part of the food supply chain are good enough reasons to understand some facts and misconceptions about public health.  Hence, the following is for informational purposes and should not be used to diagnose any medical issues.   As we will see, the need to check in with a medical professional can help one get more quickly on the path to recovery when it comes to the flu.

It is coming to that time of year…  With winter approaching concerns can arise about the flu season.   When an elevated number of individuals are struck with illness, including at times stomach and intestinal problems, questions can arise what microscopic entities are responsible for making you such a wreck.   In terms of the food industry, it is a good idea to understand some basics when it comes to making sense of some often confused realities of the flu and stomach illnesses.

To begin, stomach flu (viral gastroenteritis) is not the same thing as the “flu” (influenza).   Influenza, according to the U.S. National Library of Medicine’s MedlinePlus website, “is a respiratory infection caused by a number of viruses.”   Symptoms can include the following: “Body or muscle aches/Chills/Cough/Fever/Headache/Sore throat” and the flu “almost never causes an upset stomach.”  Hence, the label of “stomach flu” can easily be confused with other “flus” making their way around the populace in these cold winter months.

The stomach flu/viral gastroenteritis is intestinal and is most commonly spread through “contact with an infected person or ingestion of contaminated food or water.”   Rotavirus and Noroviruses are two of the well-known viruses that can cause the condition.   Common symptoms of viral gastroenteritis include: diarrhea, vomiting, aches, and a low-grade fever.  This last symptom is one that can be of some service in terms of determining if one is suffering from viral gastroenteritis or food poisoning.   According to an article featured on CNN.com, though food poisoning “may come with fever, it often doesn’t, and it usually goes away pretty quickly.” A more elongated intestinal battle with fever may be a better indication of viral gastroenteritis. These differences assist medical professionals in the diagnosis of those suffering from intestinal conditions.

As one might imagine, differentiating these ailments can be a bit tricky, especially if diarrhea is present: “because the symptoms are similar, it’s easy to confuse viral diarrhea with diarrhea caused by bacteria such as salmonella and E.coli.”  Still, in an industry focused on safety and prevention, the ability to understand these potential dividing lines and methods of prevention, are important areas to understand in public health, as they can affect our industry so significantly.

Though difficult to sometimes differentiate, these various afflictions share some things in common: prevention is possible with a good hygiene program, educating workers on preventing food contamination can save your company from customer complaints and concerns, and the ability to refer employees with any symptoms to medical professionals can do a lot to keep you, your workers, and your customers safe and sound.

A Picture of Mathew J. Bartkowiak, Ph.D.

About Mathew J. Bartkowiak, Ph.D.

Laboratory Products Department Manager, Nelson-Jameson, Inc.
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