By Bonnie Jenkins, Advanced Natural Medicine
First it was peanuts. Now it’s pistachio nuts. Food recalls are becoming a common occurrence these days. It makes you wonder just how safe any of the food we buy is. And it doesn’t seem to matter whether you shop at upscale health-food stores or the 99¢ store.
So who is to blame? Sometimes you can fault the food growers (remember the outbreaks involving spinach and jalapeño peppers?), and sometimes it’s the fault of manufacturers (as with the recent Salmonella contamination of peanuts originating at the Peanut Corporation of America plant in Georgia). The government is to blame, too. Whether it’s a lack of funding, a lack of inspectors or a lack of motivation, the USDA and FDA – two federal agencies charged with ensuring the safety of our food – allow too many food safety issues to fall through the cracks. As a result, not enough is being done to improve our industrialized food system, which allows one megafarm’s contamination to affect thousands of people across the country. And that could be putting your health at risk every time you eat.
Handle with Care
There isn’t much you can personally do to stop the recalls. But you can fight food poisoning on the home front. Proper sanitation, food handling, and cooking temperatures at home are the most crucial steps in cutting your risk of food borne illness.
Of course, keeping your kitchen clean and not cross-contaminating foods are key. But checking “Sell by” and expiration dates is also critical. “Sell by” dates tell the store how long to display the product for sale. Be sure the date on the food you buy allows enough time to eat it before then. “Best if used by” or “Use by” dates tell you by when you should eat (or freeze) the product for best quality. Food still might be perfectly safe to eat after the dates have passed – as long as it hasn’t been opened or mishandled (such as not being refrigerated promptly by the store or by you).
As soon as a package is opened, however, all bets are off – expiration dates don’t apply after that. Once open, bacteria can enter and spoil food in a matter of days. Typically, you should eat a refrigerated food within three to seven days of opening it, though foods like hard cheeses and condiments last a lot longer.
Be Proactive With Probiotics
Amid the seemingly never-ending food scares, a recent study reports that probiotics may help prevent food poisoning. Probiotics are beneficial in two ways: First, probiotics reinforce the integrity of the intestinal lining as a protective barrier to prevent harmful organisms or materials from crossing into the body’s bloodstream. Second, some probiotics have been found to secrete antimicrobial substances known as “bacteriocins,” that inhibit harmful bacteria.
During this study, which was conducted at the University College in Cork, Ireland, researchers gave pigs a daily dose of either cow’s milk or a probiotic preparation containing five active strains of beneficial bacteria. On the sixth day, all of the pigs were exposed to Salmonella – the same bacteria responsible for the recent nut recalls. Then the researchers watched what happened for the next 23 days.
The study found, among the animals treated with probiotics, fewer pigs came down with diarrhea. If they were affected, the diarrhea was less severe and didn’t last as long as it did in the pigs fed cow’s milk. These animals also gained more weight during recovery than the milk-fed pigs. When the Irish investigators took an even closer look, they found that the number of Salmonella bugs had dropped dramatically in the probiotic-treated pigs.
While this particular study used pigs, probiotics can have the same affect in us humans. Probiotics colonize in the lining of your intestines and make it difficult for illness-causing bad bacteria to thrive. To boost your defenses, take the recommended levels of the “big three” probiotics (L. acidophilus, B. bifidum, and L. bulgaricus), either in capsule or powder form. You need all three of the friendly bacteria to make sure your defensive capabilities are equal to whatever threats may arise.
If you think you may have food poisoning, speed is of the essence. After all, the quicker you treat the condition, the more likely you can block the poison’s impact on your digestive tract. My go-to supplement at the first sign of stomach trouble is activated charcoal.
A natural deodorant and disinfectant, activated charcoal has an amazing ability to neutralize all sorts of poisons, including bacteria, heavy metals, toxins, and other chemicals. It’s so effective that hospital emergency rooms around the world use it to treat drug overdoses and poisonings.
For mild cases of food poisoning, take 1,000 mg. of activated charcoal (typically two capsules) at the first sign of nausea or diarrhea. You can repeat this every two hours as needed. But be aware that charcoal can decrease your body’s absorption of certain nutrients and may also interfere with medications. Avoid this by waiting two hours after using activated charcoal before taking any medication or supplements.
One Last Thing …
Food poisoning is nothing to mess with. People – especially young children and the elderly – can and do die from severe cases. If you experience violent vomiting or diarrhea for several hours, run – don’t walk – to the emergency room. If it’s Salmonella or E. coli, a severe case will require antibiotics, fluid replacement, and possibly a stay in the hospital.
Research Brief …
You know I’m an exercise nut. In fact, I try to hit the gym at least five days a week. In part, it’s because I’ve had some recent health problems. It’s also because I’m getting older and want to avoid many of the health problems my parents suffer from. But what really keeps me coming back day after day is the fact that it makes me feel good – emotionally, mentally, and physically. And now there’s proof that these benefits aren’t just a figment of my imagination.
Researchers have found that regular exercise can significantly improve the quality of life of inactive, overweight, older women. The research, dubbed DREW (Dose-Response to Exercise in postmenopausal Women), looked at 464 sedentary women between the ages of 45 and 75. All of them were overweight or obese, and they all had high blood pressure. The study evaluated whether the women could benefit from 30 minutes of moderate physical activity on most days of the week.
The participants were assigned to one of four groups: Those who got no exercise; those who exercised for only 15 minutes per day; those who met the 30-minute requirement; and those who worked out for 45 minutes. Among the exercise groups, the women worked out three to four times a week for six months. By the end of the study, the researchers determined that the more the women exercised, the more they improved their quality of life.
If you’re ready to make regular exercise a part of your life, good for you! But if it’s been a while since you’ve worked out, or if you have specific health problems, check with your doctor before you begin. If you get the “all-clear,” get some instruction – either from a personal trainer or in a class setting – so you can properly incorporate cardio (aerobic) exercise and weight or resistance exercise into your plan.
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Casey PG, et al. “A five-strain probiotic combination reduces pathogen shedding and alleviates disease signs in pigs challenged with Salmonella enterica Serovar Typhimurium.” Applied and Environmental Microbiology. 2007;73:1858-1863.
MacFarlane, GT, et al. “Probiotics, infection and immunity.” Current Opinions in Infectious Disease. 2002;15:501-506.
Martin CK, et al. “Exercise Dose and Quality of Life: A Randomized Controlled Trial.” Archives of Internal Medicine. 2009; 169:269-278.