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am I the only one who gets food poisoning?

Last weekend we made a huge pot of spaghetti that got left on the counter for five hours. I posted online someplace else asking if it was okay to eat, and most people said yes.

But I threw it out. It sucked, but spaghetti costs like $5 to remake, and I've had food poisoning twice this year and do not want to risk it again.

I kinda wonder if I'm the only one though, based on answers. I absolutely HATE food poisoning, it ruins a weekend. I've had it several times in the last few years, too. I know some people will get it and blame "the flu" or "a stomach bug" - say they got it from the air and there was just no way to prevent it. But in my experience when a group of people all eat the same thing, then all get very very sick at roughly the same time 12-36 hours later, and then they're all better 8-12 hours after that when the evil is purged, it was food.

So all these people told me "Oh eat the spaghetti, people are so over-paranoid about a little germ these days!" and a lot of them said that you can't put hot food straight into the fridge, you have to let it cool down first otherwise it'll 1) heat up your fridge or 2) grow more bacteria because the food is cooling off "quicker than it should" (huh?) They said if it smells okay, it's good to eat.

I found an FDA website that totally contradicts all that. Says you SHOULD put hot food straight into the fridge. Which has always been my rule... if it's been off the stove for 90 minutes or so, or generally the length of the meal, I throw it in the fridge. I also rotate out foods every hour or so when I have a party. And lately I've been following the recommendation to put food in shallow, small dishes when storing leftovers - convenient for lunches, but also a big safety thing because it cools faster.

Here's my struggle... if I'm being told that I'm paranoid or a germ-a-phobe, is everyone else just tough enough to never get food poisoning? am I a magnet for the stuff? are they in denial about what causes sickness? I'm being really careful and have STILL gotten struck with crap, and it pisses me off!

Normal people: what's your checklist for food safety look like? When will you not eat something? What do you do to keep your food from making you sick? What am I missing?



( 33 comments — Leave a comment )
Mar. 24th, 2014 03:41 pm (UTC)
I hardly ever get food poisoning; and I sometimes leave food out all night. But then it's almost always vegetarian food, and if I reheat it I make it properly hot.

I think different people are differently susceptible to bugs, but also I think that if you are "being really careful" against your "ways to avoid food poisoning" checklist and *yet still getting food poisoning* then either your definition of "really careful" isn't strict enough or your checklist is incorrect or incomplete or perhaps you are just really susceptible to it.
Mar. 24th, 2014 03:45 pm (UTC)
so I just re-edited the entry to add the question... what does your checklist look like? maybe someone has something I'm missing!
(no subject) - neuro42 - Mar. 25th, 2014 04:28 am (UTC) - Expand
Mar. 24th, 2014 04:08 pm (UTC)
Starches and sugars are especially things that need to be dealt with sooner. Rice and spaghetti? Bacteria loooove to eat that up (just like we do). Yes, it will heat up your fridge, but the latent heat in your food already in the fridge will mean it won't warm up THAT much and it's better to have all things cool rather than one thing making toxins. (remember: it's the toxins produced by the bacteria, so once it's in there, it's bad, not matter what even if you kill the bacteria afterwards)

2) grow more bacteria because the food is cooling off "quicker than it should"
That is totally wrong.

HOWEVER, smelling something as you heat it is a good way to tell if something is bad. This is a second test to see if something you've canned (see FDA's guidelines on canning) sealed properly or otherwise is ok. But it has to be as you heat it, you can't just smell the toxins if it's still cold.

Five hours I probably would have just stuck it in the fridge, though, tbh. But I probably would not have let the kid eat it until I had some to be sure it was ok. I don't get food poisoning much, though.

One thing you might consider: when and what did you eat when you did feel bad? What were the conditions? How long was it out? If you can narrow down when and what is going down maybe that will help.
Mar. 24th, 2014 05:40 pm (UTC)
Last time I got it, I think it was from some guacamole we'd made that was in the fridge for 4-5 days, which is borderline. I hoped with no meat, onions, lemon juice, what could grow in it? but I was awfully sick, and the only one who was sick, and that was the only thing I'd eaten that nobody else had.

before that, it was from a family potluck where we never did narrow down the dish completely. and before that was a buffet dinner at a hotel wedding reception. and I got it once at a baby shower. all totally unrelated groups of people, but all sick together so we knew that was it.
Mar. 24th, 2014 04:09 pm (UTC)
Yeah, the letting stuff cool on the counter first" applied back when refrigerators didn't cool things well, so you couldn't put something hot in the fridge without it warming up everything in there.

I don't worry about food poisoning much though. Most cooked meat isn't gonna have significant pathogen load, and stomach acid and enzymes are pretty good at killing stuff. I'd eat that spaghetti 24 hours later, even.
Mar. 24th, 2014 04:15 pm (UTC)
My own personal - NOT at all scientific - theory is that you build up resistance over a long time. I was raised in the 50's. We did not refrigerate butter or eggs, for instance. We ate/eat raw beef (steak tartare) and raw fish (sushi). I have a friend who routinely takes 2 and 3 day hikes and throws steak into his pack for grilling on his trip. He cooks it over a fire after it's spent 2 or 3 days outside of refrigeration. He's done this all his life and never gets sick - he's in his 50's.

I mainly use my eyes. If it smells off, I don't eat it. Or if the consistency or color is off, I'll toss it. Otherwise, it's fair game. I've done it that way all my life.

I've had food poisoning one time - about 25 years ago.

It sounds to me like you are just not conditioned and may never be. And a whole lot of people today are in the same boat. Probably you and I could eat the very same thing that was maybe a little off. It wouldn't not affect me but would make you sick.

I don't think you are missing anything. For you, taking chances doesn't work.

AGAIN NO SCIENCE here. Just experience and intuition.

Mar. 24th, 2014 04:24 pm (UTC)
This must have some merit. Otherwise I can't explain people eating street food in India and not falling sick and some who do constantly. ;)
(no subject) - lepid0ptera - Mar. 24th, 2014 04:26 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - spacefem - Mar. 25th, 2014 01:07 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - aryanhwy - Mar. 24th, 2014 07:47 pm (UTC) - Expand
Mar. 24th, 2014 04:22 pm (UTC)
I agree that 24-hour flus don't really exist- they're nearly always food poisoning. I leave food out all the time and I don't recall the last time I had something like that though.

I found this article helpful: http://www.nhs.uk/news/2013/07July/Pages/Food-poisoning-warning-over-fruit-and-veg.aspx

You're most likely to get food poisoning from lettuce or other uncooked leafy greens. So are you eating a lot of lettuce?
Mar. 24th, 2014 06:10 pm (UTC)
Yeah lots of things are much worse than the things that we think we have to be careful. Veggies, fruits, starches. All things that are tasty to bacteria.
(no subject) - neuro42 - Mar. 25th, 2014 04:43 am (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - jackiechloe - Mar. 25th, 2014 02:04 pm (UTC) - Expand
Mar. 24th, 2014 04:26 pm (UTC)
At home, in winter we are a little more lax about the food since it's cool and dry at home. In summer with humidity to boot, we don't take chances. But we can be a little more just because we don't have meat in the mix (being vegetarian). But with a kid in place I am more vigil about the food not being left out, etc.

Back in the day when I did cook meat, I would refrigerate immediately. I just didn't like the thought of meat sitting out.
Mar. 24th, 2014 04:53 pm (UTC)
I'm kind of lax but I've only suspected food poisoning a few times in my life.

I let stuff stay out a few hours, unless it is high in dairy (other than cheese). I also don't eat meat.

I eat leftovers for about 4 or 5 days.
Mar. 24th, 2014 06:12 pm (UTC)
We very rarely stick to any guidelines when it comes to leaving food out. I'll happily eat anything as long as I can't taste or smell that it has gone off, and have only ever once in my life had food poisoning. Meat, cheese, cream, milk........if it smells ok and tastes ok, I'm fine with it.

It probably helps that I've been raised so I have a tough stomach. No obsessive hand washing etc. A quick rinse of the hands after going to the bathroom or coming in from playing outside and we were considered clean enough to eat, and for eating packets of food while out, we weren't told to wash our hands. Now I'm outside a lot, and around animals and the resultant dirt etc and still only wash my hands when I go to the bathroom. No stomach bugs. A friend who now washes her hands much less than she used to, also has less stomach bugs.

Perhaps you are more susceptible. Certainly sounds it. But spaghetti left out for five hours? I'd eat it. Last week I ate lasagna that had been out for two days (leftovers left forgotten in the microwave) and no problems whatsoever, I just made sure it was heated fully.
Mar. 24th, 2014 07:44 pm (UTC)
I've only had food poisoning two or three times in my life, but there is no way it can be confused with a type of flu. The physical reaction is too strong, and I have an aversion to the food that caused it for a long time afterwards -- years in the case of the sweetened peanut butter that gave me food poisoning as a kid. I could hardly eat peanut butter cookies afterward, it was terrible.
Mar. 25th, 2014 11:56 am (UTC)
Our brains are extremely good at linking nausea with a particular food for this particular reason, but it doesn't mean the food actually caused the illness.

For instance, during my first pregnancy I got sick on cucumber while I had morning sickness and couldn't eat cucumber for about 5 years afterwards. During my second pregnancy the same thing happened except with ginger tea, and I can no longer enjoy ginger 2.5 years later.

In neither case was the cucumber or ginger actually the cause of my illness as it was just morning sickness.

When you go through chemo they often advise you NOT to eat your favourite foods, since often people develop an aversion to things they eat during chemo. Again, not the food causing the illness, just the chemo.
(no subject) - aryanhwy - Mar. 25th, 2014 12:04 pm (UTC) - Expand
Mar. 24th, 2014 09:02 pm (UTC)
I tend to not get food poisoning. I don't really have a method tho, besides smelling and looking at something if I don't know how old it is. If it looks weird or smells weird usually I chuck it. Once in a great great while I guess wrong, but it's very rare. I'm much more likely to get sick from eating too much of things I'm not supposed to (too much dairy wrecks havoc on my digestive system...)

Completely unrelated... But I love reading your blog. You are such a good writer. Have you ever considered writing a book? Or maybe collecting some of your posts into a book? The idea occurred to be as I was reading, and I felt the need to share it. :-)
Mar. 25th, 2014 01:13 pm (UTC)
oh gosh I'd love to write a book.

every year I download all my entries and have them bound up at lulu for archiving, and I flip through the pages thinking "there's got to be a book in here somewhere!"

but alas, just a jumbled mess of incoherent ranting. someday I'll figure it out!
(no subject) - random_blobs - Mar. 26th, 2014 10:46 pm (UTC) - Expand
Mar. 25th, 2014 12:10 am (UTC)
I had food poisoning really, really badly once and mildly a few times. It was awful so we will throw things out if they've been out longer than two hours, and we're super paranoid about picnic food/outside, and really careful about expiration dates and how long leftovers stay in the fridge. People say they "hate to waste" and I guess no one wastes for fun but I'd rather throw out a $15 pot of spaghetti, sauce and sausage than have a $150+ emergency room bill!
Mar. 25th, 2014 03:37 am (UTC)
i asked the assorted scientists of the askscience reddit about the hot food in the fridge issue once: http://www.reddit.com/r/askscience/comments/mcwsb/is_there_any_real_reason_not_to_put_hot_food/
Mar. 25th, 2014 01:12 pm (UTC)

there are a lot of concerns there about energy.

you know, if you're air-conditioning your house I'd say it's a lost cause either way. Putting it in your fridge is probably the most efficient way to cool it off.

Maybe if I make a pot of soup I'll just throw ice cubes in it before I throw it in the fridge!
(no subject) - koremelanaigis - Mar. 26th, 2014 03:47 am (UTC) - Expand
Mar. 25th, 2014 04:10 am (UTC)
I never worry about anything, and I've gotten food poisoning exactly once (from raw seafood at a $500+ restaurant, and nobody else I was with got sick). Don't know what kind of data point that makes. :) It was one of the three most utterly fucking awful experiences of my life, though...
Mar. 26th, 2014 03:07 am (UTC)

So um, I tweeted this yesterday, but I was making hamburger helper, and realized that I needed milk for it! I kind of panicked, because I had already browned the meat and put some squash and mushroom in too, etc. So uh, I found the quart of milk in the fridge. The date was Mar-16. Shit. Smelled it, smelled like ass. Tasted it, wanted to throw up.

It was all clumpy and kind of faint red or brown.

I poured it into a glass to try and decant the stuff on top if it was separated, but it wasn't really. Just the whole thing glopped in.

I was really starting to sweat it, and I'm not proud of this, but I used about a cup of that shit. It boiled for about 20 minutes, but I've been terrified ever since last night.

After dinner, my bf said it was delicious, etc, I was putting up the leftovers and bam, a carton of milk I bought last week. It had been behind the old carton, which I hadn't thrown away because???



Like I said, so far so good. If I don't comment on your entries anymore after this, you know what happened...
Mar. 27th, 2014 03:47 am (UTC)
I thought I got food poisoning a lot when I still had my gallbladder, but I just had similar symptoms because my body couldn't digest things right. I actually grew up drinking raw milk and eating raw butter (whoops...lol) and I think that's why I've only had food poisoning twice.

As a checklist, I look at the date and smell it. My sense of smell is really good and it tells me if something is "off". If I'm going to cook with dairy, though, I often use "old" milk (more than a week past the sell by date). It's essentially buttermilk, and heating it kills most things. My mom always made pancakes with old milk so it wasn't wasted, and they were super fluffy and good.

Basically what I'm saying is that I should have been killed by milk at some point. Instead, milk has always settled with me, even when I couldn't eat anything else. My dad and I crave ice cream, yogurt, and cottage cheese when we're super sick.

You were right to throw out the spaghetti though. I got so incredibly sick from a pasta dish that had been left out. I thought, oh, there's no meat in this, I'll be fine. I was not fine. It ruined pasta for me. Truly a tragedy.

Edited at 2014-03-27 04:06 am (UTC)
( 33 comments — Leave a comment )

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