My Son Ate Raw Hamburger: Now What?
A few weeks ago, my family and I were at a fair. My son went off to get some lunch and came back with a half-eaten burger, of which he kindly offered me a bite. I took one look and recoiled: The meat inside was bright pink, clearly not cooked through.
As a nutrition writer, I knew that undercooked hamburger can harbor illness-inducing pathogens such as E. coli and salmonella. I knew it could take up to a week for my son to get sick if indeed the meat he'd eaten was contaminated. And I knew that while most cases of food-borne illness are fleeting, some can cause serious complications and even be deadly.
But I didn't know what to do. I thought of making him go to the bathroom and stick his finger down his throat to induce vomiting. That didn't sound right, somehow. Anyway, I was pretty sure he wouldn't comply.
So I spent the rest of the week keeping a nervous eye on the boy, noting all his bathroom comings and goings. He was, of course, fine.
A prodigious Googler, I went looking for information about what to do if this ever should happen again. I found plenty of tips for what to do after you're taken ill, but nothing about that time between ingesting something suspicious and the onset of symptoms. Believe me, that can seem like a very long time. (The whole experience prompted me to write about food-borne illness in this week's "Eat, Drink and Be Healthy" column.)
Raymond told me I could have "flung the rest of the burger in the microwave" and cooked it through, or I could have made him throw the rest of it out. She didn't recommend making him vomit up what he'd eaten. But she did suggest I should have gone back and spoken to the folks at the burger stand -- both to let them know about the undercooked meat and to get a receipt for the burger, just in case we needed to document the incident down the road.
Should my son have become ill, Raymond said, it would have been best just to let the illness run its course. "Most cases of food poisoning only last long enough for the body to evacuate the evil bacteria," she said. And that process, she said, shouldn't be "stopped up" with medications to relieve vomiting or diarrhea. "It's evacuating for good reason," she said.
But it is important to keep well hydrated during a bout of food poisoning, Raymond added. Instead of plain water, use something that will replenish electrolytes. Try Pedialyte or a home-made version: a liter of water plus some fresh-squeezed orange juice, a teaspoon of sugar and a teaspoon of salt.
But if the sick person were to develop a high-grade fever or bloody diarrhea or "look dehydrated," Raymond said, "All bets are off. Get them to the emergency department."
Have you had a similar scare? How did you handle it? Share your story -- and take a moment to vote in today's poll:
Jennifer LaRue Huget
September 29, 2009; 7:00 AM ET
Categories: Food Safety and Recalls , General Health
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