Q. I tend to get food poisoning about once a year. Often, however, I am the only person in a group that gets it. Is there anything I can eat that would make my GI tract more resistant? Would probiotics help?
A. It’s true that some people seem to be more resistant to food-borne pathogens than others. So, how can you strengthen your own resistance?
Cultivate Healthy Gut Flora
Having a healthy population of beneficial bacteria in your gut could certainly help. Probiotic supplements can be useful in acute situations, such as after a course of antibiotics or when traveling to dysentary-prone destinations. But on an ongoing basis, I think the best strategy is to try to incorporate fermented and cultured foods, such as yogurt, kefir, tempeh, kimchee, or fresh sauerkarut, into your diet on a regular basis.
See also: Cultured and Fermented Foods.
Don’t Overuse Acid-Blockers
One of the primary functions of stomach acid is to kill harmful pathogens that may be present in the food before they can make you sick. But these days, many (most?) people take medications daily to suppress their production of stomach acid. If you’re one of them, this could make you more susceptible to food poisoning.
Although I see the value of acid-blocking medications in certain situations, I think long-term use of acid blockers is a really bad idea for several reasons. Not only does it make you less resistant to food-borne pathogens, it may also weaken your bones. Ironically, blocking stomach acid may also contribute to acid reflux!
See Also: How to Avoid Acid Reflux
Safe Food Handling
But your best protection against food poisoning is really safe food handling. Be sure the following habits are all part of your routine:
1. Wash your hands thoroughly (for 20 seconds) with warm water and soap before handling food. That includes unpacking groceries.
2. Clean sink, countertops, cutting boards, and other kitchen surfaces with disinfectant daily.
3. Wash or replace sponges, brushes, dishcloths, and dish towels FREQUENTLY. Sponges and brushes should be run through the dishwasher every time you run it. Dishcloths and towels should be laundered after two days.
4. Immediately and thoroughly clean anything that comes into contact with raw meat–including your hands, counters, cutting boards, sink dish towels, etc..
5. Washing produce with “vegetable wash” will not kill salmonella or e. coli bacteria. Only cooking can reliably kill these bacteria. But there are steps you can take to make your salads and raw vegetables safer. Washing produce with a 3% solution of hydrogen peroxide (the kind you buy at the drugstore) might be of some benefit. I find it easiest to put the hydrogen peroxide it in a spray bottle and leave it under the sink. When I bring home produce, I put it in my (clean) kitchen sink and spray it to saturate. After five minutes, I rinse the produce, let it air (or spin it) dry before storing. The hydrogen peroxide rinses away without leaving any residual taste or odor and can also help retard spoilage.
6. Keep cold foods cold and warm foods hot. Bacteria grows fastest in the “danger zone” between 40 degrees F (the temp of your fridge) and 140 degrees F (serving temperature for hot foods). Don’t let hot food cool to room temperature before putting in the fridge…that’s too long in the danger zone. To keep hot food from heating up your refrigerator, let it cool at room temperature for one hour before refrigerating. Dividing large quantities into smaller containers will also help it cool faster.