(STAFF-a-luh-COK-us AR-ee-us) – you might know this bacteria as “Staph” for short. There are 32 known species or subspecies of Staph and it can be found in the environment, soil, water, on surfaces, and very commonly in people. Staph can grow toxins, and the toxins cause illness in people which is fast-acting. One of the unusual things about Staph is that it is pretty tough, and can survive conditions that other bacteria can’t.
Because the illness that comes with Staph is caused by a toxin (a chemical reaction), the onset time of the illness is very short. Symptoms can appear in as little as 30 minutes to an hour after eating, up to as long as 7 hours. The illness itself is usually pretty intense, with diarrhea, vomiting, cramping and dehydration being common. Sometimes hospitalization can be necessary for the person if he or she is severely dehydrated. The duration of the illness is about one day unless hospitalization is required. The good news is, you’re not likely to die from this foodborne illness (although you might feel like it!)
Because Staph is found in people and environments around the world, it occurs everywhere. Staph is commonly found in human hair, skin and in people’s nasal passages (nose and mouth). Many foods have been found to contain Staph, but especially food that has been touched with bare hands and then not refrigerated properly. Some examples have included: salads such as egg, tuna, chicken, potato, pasta, sandwiches, dairy products, cream filled pastries, and meat and poultry products.
Avoid touching ready to eat food with bare hands if you can. If you must, be sure to wash your hands thoroughly first. If you’re serving food at a gathering, try to offer foods with utensils -try to avoid sharing your germs. Always keep cold food cold, and hot food hot!