Food Poisoning & Drinking Alcohol

by David J. Hanson, Ph. D.

“Alcohol with a meal can lower the risk of food poisoning” reports the New York Times. 1 The evidence continues to grow that drinking alcoholic beverages with dinner can either prevent food poisoning or reduce its effects.

Food poisoning appears to be much more common than most people realize because they often incorrectly attribute their symptoms to flu. More serious is the fact that food poisoning can be fatal.

An outbreak of gastroenteritis leading to diarrhea, vomiting and high fever among passengers on a cruise ship was analyzed. Research indicated that the consumption of alcohol by many of the passengers may have been what prevented them from getting sick. 2

A Spanish study of an outbreak of acute salmonella gastric infection among people at a banquet found that “the protective effect of alcohol was strongest for subjects who had drunk more than 40 grams of alcohol, with attack rates being 95% for those who had not drunk alcohol, 78% for those who had drunk less than 40 grams, and 54% for those who had drunk more than 40 grams. 3 A standard drink in the U.S. contains 14 grams of alcohol. A standard drink is a can or bottle of beer (12 ounces) a glass of wine (5 ounces) or a shot of distilled spirits (1.5 ounce). Thus, three standard drinks would equal 42 grams of alcohol.

In a similar incident, Desenclos and his colleagues studied an outbreak of illness caused by people eating oysters contaminated with shigella or salmonella. The researchers found that “After controlling for potential confounders, a protective effect for beverages that have an alcohol concentration >10% was found, but no protective effect was found for beverages with an alcohol concentration <10%.” 4 Thus, it appears that the higher the alcoholic content or proof of the beverage, the more protective it is against food poisoning.

Research has also demonstrated the ability of alcohol to kill salmonella, shigella and E-coli in the laboratory. 5

“THE BOTTOM LINE: Alcohol with a meal can lower the risk of food poisoning.” 6

This web site does not provide medical opinion or advice, which should always be obtained from a physician or other qualified health care provider.

References and Readings

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