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Alcohol versus food poisoning bacteria

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Alcohol versus food poisoning bacteria

Postby blackmantis » Tue Sep 21, 2010 10:02 am

Hi there guys, I'm a bit of a newbie when it comes to biology, although the subject fascinates me, I had a little question (although I'm by no means an expert in how this all works), but an interesting question popped across my mind.

From what I know, Alcohol is a poison that can kill bacteria (given that it is used in Aqium hand gel, alcohol wipes, etc).

So if that's the case, let's say we have a strain of bacteria that causes food poisoning, and it is not alcohol-resistant; alcohol will kill it.

If someone were to eat, say, contaminated food with this strain that is killed by alcohol, and then find out later the food was contaminated, and they downed some alcohol (strong stuff, a few 40% alcohol volume shots for example), wouldn't this obliterate (or assist in the destruction) of the food poisoning bacteria and possibly avert the bout of food poisoning symptoms like diarrhea, vomiting, etc. Given that the food is suddenly engulfed in alcohol.

Again this probably has a lot of complications, and rhetorical answers, but again I'm by no means a scientist, just wanted to hear what would happen if this was the case.
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Postby biohazard » Tue Sep 21, 2010 12:14 pm

I think consuming alcohol in an effort to avoid food poisoning is not very effective.

Firstly, even strong alcohol is diluted in the stomach and intestines, and you need around 70% alcohol to gain the most effective killing power. Also, alcohol is quickly absorbed by the body, so it has not much time to get e.g. further in the intestine (atlhough alcohol kills bacteria instantly on contact if they are susceptible to it). Furthermore, if the bacteria are mixed with food, alcohol not only is diluted but does not reach the bacteria very effectively. Finally, some food poisonings are caused by toxins already in the food, so alcohol doesn't prevent the illness even if it killed the bacteria.

Maybe if you ate contaminated food and instantly drank a fair amount of very strong alcohol (maybe 80% or so), you might actually be able to kill enough bacteria to avoid the food poisoning, but generally speaking I do not think alcohol has much, if any, effect in preventing food poisoning.
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Postby JackBean » Tue Sep 21, 2010 1:16 pm

I think you would kill rather yourself than the bacteria ;)
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Re:

Postby biohazard » Wed Sep 22, 2010 6:06 am

JackBean wrote:I think you would kill rather yourself than the bacteria ;)


People used to alcohol have no problem in drinking 80% alcohol, though even they may have trouble if they drink more than 0.1 to 0.2 litres in one shot (0.1 litres of 80% alcohol is about the same as having two double scots and one regular - quite a lot but not enough to kill you... you might be sick all over the palce after that, though). Not sure. Even I can drink 80% alcohol, but not sure if I can drink it quickly enough for it to have any effect on bacteria - except for the ones that live in my mouth :)
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Postby JackBean » Wed Sep 22, 2010 10:45 am

well, for some people it's not enough untill it has at least 90% ;) :-D Anyway, as you said, the alcohol is diluted and quite fastly absorbed, so you had to drink a lot of 80% alcohol to kill the bacteria and you would be dead first...
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Postby blackmantis » Wed Sep 22, 2010 10:59 am

Thanks for all the answers, very informative! It makes a lot of sense to me now, although it won't stop me using my Aqium gel.
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Postby JackBean » Wed Sep 22, 2010 11:06 am

I hope you're using it on hands, rigth? Not drinking.
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Postby biohazard » Wed Sep 22, 2010 1:11 pm

As far as I know the use of any kind of antiseptic hand gels is not advised in normal daily life. Your hands already contain a huge amount of bacteria and the antiseptic gels only kill the few on the very top of the skin. Sure, it you have food poisoning bacteria or viruses on your hands it kills them, too, but this should be an extremely rare situation for a person with normal hygiene. To the contrary, long-term use of such gels can harm the normal, beneficial bacteria on your hands and thus give more room for real pathogens. Also, harmful fungal infections become more common in persons who use antiseptic gels regularly.

This, in turn, makes your hands prone for infections or colonization by real food poisoning bacteria (like Staphylococcus aureus) and with bad luck you can transfer them into food you prepare, increasing the chances that it becomes spoiled.

Antiseptic gels are good for environments where lots of colonization take place (e.g. in hospitals) or where bacterial contamination via hands can cause serious problems (like large kitchens catering for many persons).

Overall, too high hygiene levels have been linked to many kinds of modern health problems, and thus the use of antiseptics and antibiotics is more harmful than useful in normal daily life.

Anyway, much of the food poisonings that happen do so because of the contaminated food (and most food has bacteria and other microbes no matter how clean your hands are), so preparing and storing food correctly is much more important.

I am sure the Aqium gel manufacturer does not agree with me, though :P
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Postby biohazard » Wed Sep 22, 2010 1:32 pm

Oh, forgot you had that phobia-thing. If using the gel makes you feel more comfortable, I don't think there's reason to stop its use. Just take care of the skin of your hands so that you don't get rashes or other skin injuries that could harbour bacteria or fungi! :)
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Re:

Postby blackmantis » Thu Sep 23, 2010 12:52 am

biohazard wrote:As far as I know the use of any kind of antiseptic hand gels is not advised in normal daily life. Your hands already contain a huge amount of bacteria and the antiseptic gels only kill the few on the very top of the skin. Sure, it you have food poisoning bacteria or viruses on your hands it kills them, too, but this should be an extremely rare situation for a person with normal hygiene. To the contrary, long-term use of such gels can harm the normal, beneficial bacteria on your hands and thus give more room for real pathogens. Also, harmful fungal infections become more common in persons who use antiseptic gels regularly.

This, in turn, makes your hands prone for infections or colonization by real food poisoning bacteria (like Staphylococcus aureus) and with bad luck you can transfer them into food you prepare, increasing the chances that it becomes spoiled.

Antiseptic gels are good for environments where lots of colonization take place (e.g. in hospitals) or where bacterial contamination via hands can cause serious problems (like large kitchens catering for many persons).

Overall, too high hygiene levels have been linked to many kinds of modern health problems, and thus the use of antiseptics and antibiotics is more harmful than useful in normal daily life.

Anyway, much of the food poisonings that happen do so because of the contaminated food (and most food has bacteria and other microbes no matter how clean your hands are), so preparing and storing food correctly is much more important.

I am sure the Aqium gel manufacturer does not agree with me, though :P


Well I'm careful not to use it religiously. I don't know if my room could be considered a colonization environment (Computer junkies room, mouldy pizza boxes everywhere etc), although we definitely use it at work in the office as keyboards are a huge base-of-operations for bacteria to spread. Since the Australian Government cannot afford to provide us with our own personal workstations, we are forced to share, switch every three hours so others can get on or off the pc. As soon as one person with norovirus comes into the office, it spreads like wildfire, so they introduced aqium on each table corner, as well as the mandatory scrubbing of keyboards at the end of each day, although I don't use aqium very often at home. I keep it for times when I am ill, or other family members are ill, or when I have been handling anything that contains bacteria (ie after cleaning or emptying the outhouse, working on the soil), I do plan to take it on a camping trip with me for ease of use and that we can also conserve some water that way.
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Postby biohazard » Thu Sep 23, 2010 7:16 am

Sounds reasonable. Flu viruses are probably the thing that spreads most easily from shared workstations, but I don't doubt noroviruses do so as well.

Desinfectant gels are actually really convenient on camping trips and on other such places where normal levels of hygiene may be difficult to reach.
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Postby blackmantis » Mon Mar 07, 2011 11:17 am

http://www2.potsdam.edu/hansondj/Health ... 84069.html

Looks like a study has been done, however I guess it would be entirely dependent upon the particular viral or bacterial agent. If it was put there because kitchen hand perhaps left some on the surface of the food, it could be killed, whereas if it was the actual food itself being spoiled, then the bacteria would have wholly inhabited the food, and could not be reached by the alcohol.

Still, I reckon a bit of alcohol wouldn't hurt? I mean, at least you won't FEEL the nausea of the poisoning, and you'd probably throw up if you drunk lots anyway, everybody wins (including dehydration...)
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