Food-Related Medical Emergency Procedures

There are many food related emergencies that can occur. Knowing what these emergencies are is an important step in safeguarding yourself and others from situations that could potentially have been avoided. One of these food related emergencies is reactions to food allergies. A food allergy is a specific type of allergy that is usually caused by a protein that is found in the food that a person is allergic to. In some cases, the protein is indigestible; in other cases it’s not. In both cases, however, the body’s immune system is “tricked” into thinking that the protein is a harmful pathogen, much like viruses and bacteria can cause immune responses. The allergic reaction, then, is induced by the immune system in an attempt to attack the “foreign” substance: the protein. Common symptoms of food allergies include hives, rashes, itching, swelling in the face and/or throat, difficulty breathing and swallowing, nausea, vomiting, and abdominal cramps. Common treatments for an allergic reaction include antihistamines, epinephrine, and in some cases, steroidal medications. Food allergies affect about 4% of the population.

Choking is caused by the physical blockage of the airway in the throat. Since the airway is blocked, oxygen cannot enter into the lungs, which distributes the oxygen into the bloodstream. Prolonged periods of oxygen deprivation can lead to asphyxia, which in turn can lead to hypoxia and death. Choking can be caused by certain respiratory conditions and allergic reactions where the throat swells up and closes itself, but it is usually caused by a foreign object blocking the airway. In many cases, the foreign object is a piece of food, although young children are at greater risk for swallowing non-food foreign objects. Signs of a person choking included a person grasping his/her throat, difficulty breathing, inability to speak or cry out, face turning blue from lack of oxygen, and loss of consciousness. Protocols for assisting a choking victim are varied, but usually advocate that the victim try to cough first, followed by sharp slaps to the upper back, and finally use of the Heimlich Maneuver, which is characterized by upward abdominal thrusts.

Food poisoning is caused by eating foods that contain certain pathogens, usually viruses, bacteria, and/or parasites. In some cases, food poisoning can be caused by eating natural toxins or toxic chemicals that are not usually found in food. In a large majority of food poisoning cases, the cause is poor hygiene or improper handling of food. However, certain types of plants, mushrooms, and fish are naturally toxic and are inedible. In addition, certain toxins, like pesticides or industrial runoff can enter into the food supply and cause illness.

Heartburn and indigestion are two common food-related medical conditions that millions of Americans suffer from. Heartburn is usually caused by acid reflux, specifically gastric acid, as it rises back up from the stomach into the esophagus and while indigestion is associated with bloating and nausea that can result from difficulty digesting certain foods.

Irritable bowel syndrome is a condition marked by chronic pain in the stomach, bowels, and abdominal region. Sufferers often have alternating bouts of diarrhea and constipation that can be triggered by certain foods, stress, or other illnesses. Crohn’s Disease is believed to be a form of autoimmune disease in which the body attacks the gastrointestinal system, leading to inflammation, pain, diarrhea, and vomiting. Celiac disease is another autoimmune disease, in which a certain protein found in wheat (and other similar grains) causes an autoimmune response that leads to inflammation in the small intestine. This can cause pain, diarrhea, weight loss, and fatigue.

Restaurants are required to follow certain protocols regarding food safety. In 14 states, there are laws requiring staff working in restaurants to receive training in how to aid a choking victim, including the Heimlich Maneuver. In addition, there are universal hygiene and food safety rules governing how food is prepared, served, and stored. Restaurants must take care not to leave food out in the “danger zone” of temperature: 40 to 140 degrees Fahrenheit. This is the optimal temperature range for bacteria growth. Storing or heating food to below or above this temperature range reduces the likelihood of a foodborne illness.