Christmas is a time for family and friends to get together and enjoy festive meals. It is also an opportunity for those offshore to briefly break their routine and celebrate. However, it’s also a time when food poisoning can readily show its ugly face.
Every year in Scotland, there are tens of thousands of notified cases of food poisoning – and that doesn’t include all the cases where a doctor was not consulted.
Food poisoning affects the digestion and causes symptoms such as vomiting, nausea, diarrhoea and stomach pains, and is caused by eating or drinking something that has been contaminated with micro-organisms or germs.
It can also produce a fever, shivering and aching muscles, and leave the sufferer feeling exhausted and having to take time off work – which can lead to downtime offshore or delays in the office.
Micro-organisms can be found in food if it is not cooked thoroughly, or on food if the person cooking doesn’t wash their hands properly before handling it – and also when raw and cooked foods (particularly meats) are stored together. Food can also contain toxins which can cause vomiting – one common source of this is cooked and re-cooked rice.
Usually, food poisoning symptoms last between one and two days, and to prevent the dehydration caused by vomiting and diarrhoea, you should drink plenty of cooled, boiled water and avoid dairy products.
If the symptoms persist, you should contact your doctor as a stool sample may need to be tested to determine which micro-organism is present, and antibiotics might be necessary.
The most commonly known infections carried by food are those caused by the bacteria, campylobacter, salmonella and e.coli O157:H7, and by a group of viruses called calicivirus, sometimes known as the Norwalk and Norwalk-like viruses.
It is important to preserve very good hand-washing hygiene to reduce the risk of it being passed on to other people. These bugs can live on handrails, door handles and surfaces, but are killed by soap and water.
If your job involves handling food, such as offshore catering, you should not go back to work until 48 hours after all the symptoms have disappeared. You may need a negative stool sample test before you go back.
No matter how thorough you are about food hygiene, even as a professional, you need to take extra care when cooking for a party or large group.
Think about the fridge space you’ll need so that your fridge is working efficiently. Bacteria grow best between 5C and 63C, so aim to avoid storage of susceptible food between these temperatures.
When you prepare the platform or rig Christmas turkey, make sure that:
It’s piping hot all the way through.
None of the meat is pink, even in the thickest part.
Any juices running out are clear.
It has been defrosted thoroughly.
You have avoided washing the turkey as contamination can be caused through splashing worktops and other foods.
If you find yourself having to work overseas during the festive season, here are some tips to avoid becoming ill:
Do some homework ahead of your trip so that you can anticipate food standards and water quality before you arrive. You might need to take water sterilising tablets with you. Rehydration powders can help if you do develop food poisoning.
Check out which vaccinations you may need as typhoid and Hepatitis A can be transmitted through food and water.
Only eat fruit you have peeled yourself.
Eat only cooked vegetables.
Avoid drinks with ice.
Eat foods that have been cooked thoroughly and are still hot.
Whether you are having Christmas at work or at home, a few simple precautions can prevent you spending New Year feeling dreadful. Food poisoning is not a good way to lose that extra festive weight.
Dr Euan Thompson is a medical director and occupational-health specialist at Abermed. For more information, visit www.abermed.com