I’ve felt like the queen of food poisoning in the past. I don’t mean that I poison other people with my cooking. What I mean is that I’ve been sick because of something I’ve eaten more times than I could hope to count; I’d guess a number, but you’d just think I was exaggerating.
When I ate my ex-mother-in-law’s homemade sausage pizza, I ended up dizzy and vomiting before I could get home even though no one else who ate the pizza got sick. If I ever needed to take a sick day from work, the reason was because I was having problems with something I ate. I never figured out the appropriate way to tell my boss I couldn’t come to work because, sometime in the middle of the night, I became tethered to the toilet and I was scared of the embarrassment that would come if I tried to leave my private porcelain commode long enough to do anything useful. Most of what I could think to say just sounded gross.
Name a restaurant—it has probably made me sick (if it’s one in my area), even if it has a 98% – 100% cleanliness score taped to the front door. I can only think of a handful of places that have never made me sick, and I’ve come to realize what I always order at those places is what has protected me.
Getting vomit-, diarrhea-, and lying-on-the-bathroom-floor-at-three-am-because-I-can’t-sleep-through-the-stomach-pains sick over a dozen times in a matter of months allowed me to start noticing patterns about the things that were making me ill. The first pattern I noticed was sausage. Eating more than a small amount of sausage was a huge risk factor for me becoming a gross body fluid expelling machine for a day. The next thing I noticed was beef. Then fish. Sometimes chicken. Those restaurants I’ve never gotten sick at are places where I’ve always ordered vegetarian dishes. Hmmm.
If you look through WebMD’s list of ways to prevent food poisoning, you’ll notice that almost all the foods you need concern yourself with come from animals: meat, dairy, and eggs.
So what is the absolute best way to avoid food poisoning? Is it to make sure everything is well washed, cooked, and handled properly?
The best way to avoid food poisoning is to not eat the problem items.
The problem items are animal products, especially meat.
Whoa now, you may be thinking, that’s throwing the baby out with the bathwater. It’s too extreme. Well, in a restaurant, I can’t watch everything the staff does. Meat cooked in other people’s homes has had the highest success rate of making me sick. Should I always tell my hosts to wash their hands and double check the temperature the meat reaches? Even at home, when I’m in control and being extremely careful, I’ve gotten sick from beef tacos or some tilapia on rice.
Is not eating things that have repeatedly made me wonder if I’m dying really so extreme? It seems to me that it would be a case of extreme denial to persist in eating the foods that are hurting me.
Frankly, once I noticed that a particular item had about a 25% chance of making me painfully ill whether it was cooked at home or in a restaurant, those foods were less appealing. The taste of meat isn’t worth all the pain it’s caused, so I’ve given up eating meat completely. As a result, I, the queen of food poisoning, have not had a bout of such illness even once since I stopped eating meat about six months ago. This is huge for me.
If food poisoning is something you have concerns about, you should take the suggestion of not eating meat seriously. All of the common foodborne illnesses come from animals. Cases of e. coli and salmonella on spinach and tomatoes happen because of animal waste runoff getting on crops or cross contamination with animal foods during preparation. So carefully wash your fruits and veggies, but consider skipping the meat altogether.
Children, pregnant women, and the elderly are more at risk for foodborne illnesses. Healthy adults are less likely to die from foodborne illnesses (I’d be dead 50 times over by now otherwise), but if I never again have to seek comfort in the cool bowl of a toilet as my stomach feels like it’s simultaneously exploding and being stabbed, I’ll be very happy.