Food recalls seem to have become the norm. From deli meats, to dairy, from sprouts to organic spinach, it appears all types of foods can be affected. Whether it is listeria, e-coli, salmonella or some other bacteria or parasite, food borne illnesses are a real concern. According to Health Canada every year “about 4 million (1 in 8) Canadians are affected by a food-borne illness. Of these, there are about 11,600 hospitalizations & 238 deaths” (2016).
The question remains, what can we do to avoid contamination? Obviously food safety is important. This means washing hands before preparing foods, keeping foods at the correct temperature for storage and then cooking thoroughly. However, what is equally important is keeping our digestive system functioning properly.
Many people think the stomach is just for digesting food, yet its main purpose is actually to kill off invading bacteria. You might be wondering, why do some people get sick and others don’t? One of the reasons is because individuals produce differing amounts of stomach acid (also known as Hydrochloric acid or HCl).
According to a paper published in the peer reviewed scientific journal PLOS ONE, “It is known that stomach acidity decreases with age and as a consequence of some medical treatments” for instance:
- A healthy level of stomach “pH in humans is approximately 1.5… (while) the elderly show relatively low stomach acidity (pH 6.6 in 80% of study participants) and are prone to bacterial infections in the stomach and gut”.
- Examples of medical treatments /medical disorders that lower stomach acid include; gastric bypass surgery, taking proton pump inhibitors (for acid reflux /heartburn), and celiac disease.
Research has shown that in “cases where acidity is reduced, the gut is more likely to be colonized by pathogens”. (Beasley et al., 2015). This is why it is vital that our own defenses are working efficiently. This means ensuring a proper amount of stomach acid to destroy any bacteria or parasite accidentally ingested, before they have a chance to germinate, reproduce, and cause intestinal illness. Taking a supplemental digestive enzyme with added betaine HCl will help to ensure a higher level of stomach acid. This is particularly important when eating out, travelling or having picnics/BBQs.
One more safety tip; if you are camping or at a cottage without treated ‘town water’ this summer, make sure to boil water for at least one minute before it is used for drinking, washing fruits and vegetables or brushing teeth. This treatment will destroy microorganisms as well. Let’s face it; it would defeat the purpose of washing your produce, if you used contaminated water.
So keep food safety and the health of your digestive system in mind, and you can make the most of this beautiful summer.
- Beasley, D. E., Koltz, A. M., Lambert, J. E., Fierer, N., & Dunn, R. R. (2015). The Evolution of Stomach Acidity and Its Relevance to the Human Microbiome. PLoS ONE, 10(7), e0134116.
- Health Canada. Yearly Food-Borne Illness Estimates for Canada. [Internet]. Cited on June 15, 2016. Available from: http://healthycanadians.gc.ca/eating-nutrition/risks-recalls-rappels-risques/surveillance/illness-estimates-estimations-maladies/yearly-annuel-eng.php