ISLAMABAD: Most people have experienced that unfortunate feeling in their gut making them run in search of the nearest bathroom.
The cause was most likely a delicious meal the previous day -- now deeply regretted in hindsight.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), 48 million Americans -- 1 in 6 people -- get sick from foodborne illnesses each year, with 128,000 hospitalized and 3000 dying from consuming contaminated food.
In reality, the numbers are likely to be much higher as most people don't visit their doctor due to bouts of diarrhea -- they instead prefer to suffer in silence.
But if people become complacent with their eating and hygiene habits, the number of infections will go up courtesy of multiple bacteria growing wildly in foods before they're eaten.
We've put together six common sense ways to avoid food poisoning and the key bacteria behind it -- a crib sheet to keep to hand in the kitchen.
Food left out at room temperature for hours at a time -- be it at home, a cookout (barbeque), a party, or a restaurant buffet -- is a prime source of food poisoning. The spores and toxins released by bacteria commonly found on food can flourish at this temperature.
"[The spores] thrive in the 'danger zone' of 40-140 degrees Fahrenheit (5 to 60 degrees Celsius)," says Gabrielle Judd, a registered dietician with the University of Maryland Medical Center. Judd works with transplant patients whose reduced immunity puts them at greater risk from infections -- increasing the importance of them eating wisely.
The main spore-producing bacteria are Clostridium perfringens -- among the most common causes of food poisoning in the United States. Another culprit multiplying and producing toxins at room temperature is Bacillus, found commonly in rice, soups, sauces and leftovers.
Judd refers to these bugs as "cookout bugs" as this is a typical situation where food is prepared and left out for hours at a time. "Food should not be out for more than two hours at a time," she says.
"At least half of all raw chicken carcasses carry significant levels of campylobacter," says bacteriologist Andrew Roe from the University of Glasgow, who states more than 500,000 cases of food poisoning in the U.K. are caused by these chicken-loving bacteria.
Chicken is not the only villain among the animal kingdom.
Roe advises to step away from your burger if there is any suspicion about its status as cooked -- minced meat can be a potent source of infection.
"Mince products are inherently more risky," says Roe.
The danger lies in the grinding together of meat -- and the increased likelihood of surface bacteria mixing deep into your meat -- unlike with a piece of steak.
"A steak is an intact piece of meat. Any contamination will be on the surface," says Roe. Cooking a steak well on the outside therefore reduces your chances of infection, even if it remains rare inside. But with minced meat the bacteria are mixed into the blend. This applies to any form of burger, be it gourmet or a simple slider handed out as a canapé.
"With ground meat the outside mixes up with all the meat and contaminates the rest," agrees Judd.
Burgers -- a cook-out favourite -- combined with the uncontrolled heat of a barbeque through intense, uncontrolled, flames bring a high risk of being cooked on the outside, but raw in the middle.
"People can be quite flippant, but these are the times you're increasing your risk," says Roe.
The solution? If you love your burgers, make sure you eat them well-done.
"Be prepared to reject food if not cooked thoroughly," says Roe.
The first thoughts when assigning blame to a bout of food poisoning commonly go towards meat and poultry, but your fruits and vegetables aren't as safe as you think.