Can Certain Foods Protect You from Food Poisoning?

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.

6 thoughts on “Can Certain Foods Protect You from Food Poisoning?

  1. I appreciate your opinion on acid blockers — I personally hate the fact that I need to take a pill every day indefinitely, as most doctors suggest. But I have experimented for years with going off of them gradually, and after a few good days or even weeks, eventually my acid reflux flares up again. So what you’re saying about them seems logical, but ultimately, it doesn’t seem to hold up in practice. I’m also more paranoid about developing some sort of esophageal disease (like cancer) than all the other side effects. Do you think the risk of those diseases has been exaggerated in favor of getting more people on acid blocker drugs?

    1. I am 17 and I have had to take some sort of acid blocker for a few years now, due to the other medications that I was on that could cause a stomach ulcer or just completely killed my appetite with nausea. Unfortunately, staying on these medications constantly can cause your acid to become more potent because it knows it isn’t doing its job, so coming off it could be awful if you don’t do it regularly, or change the type of medications regularly. I’m not a doctor by any means, but it sounds good that you do come off them for some time, and then go back on them, as most medications do have an overlap. If you’ve been prescribed these, and your doctors say to stay on them, you should remain on them, due to the risk of destroying your insides, even though it will have the side effects of being more vulnerable to food poisoning.

  2. Marc,

    There’s definitely a risk of esophageal disease and for those who have really exhausted other means to control their reflux, ongoing use may be the lesser of evils. Some people really do have intractable reflux and perhaps you are one of them.

    However, most people are simply put on the drugs…for life. And I suspect the vast majority COULD get control of the symptoms using other means. But they haven’t been encouraged to really explore other solutions. For example, I have never heard a GI doctor tell an overweight patient with reflux that losing weight could be a big part of the solution. It’s way easier to prescribe a pill. Know what I mean?

  3. I do know what you mean. It seems much more research is needed about acid blockers and the conditions they treat. So I’m glad you’re out there talking about it!

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