Food poisoning, also known as foodborne illness, is a condition resulting from the consumption of contaminated food or water. Food can be contaminated by bacteria or virus when it is stored, prepared, or cooked improperly.
Food poisoning is one of the most common illnesses in the US. About one in six Americans will contract food poisoning every year, according to US Food and Drug Administration.
Food poisoning is rarely serious and most people get better within a few days without treatment, but sometimes it can cause severe illness and even death.
What Causes Food Poisoning?
Food poisoning occurs when we eat food or water that contains germs, such as bacteria, viruses, parasites, or the toxic produced by them. In most cases of food poisoning, the food is contaminated by bacteria such as Salmonella or Escherichia coli, or a virus such as the norovirus.
These germs can contaminate the food in a variety of ways including:
- If the food is prepared by someone with unclean hands
- If the food is prepared with unclean cooking utensils
- If meat or poultry is undercooked
- If fish or shellfish are raw
- If foods aren’t stored at a proper temperature
What are the Symptoms of Food Poisoning?
The symptoms of food poisoning can vary depending on the source of the infection. They can range from mild to very severe and they can occur immediately after eating or can last from 24 hours to five days.
The most common symptoms of food poisoning include:
- Abdominal cramps
- Loss of appetite
Symptoms of potentially life-threatening food poisoning include:
- Persistent diarrhea
- Difficulty seeing or speaking
- Severe dehydration
- Bloody urine
If you experience any of these symptoms and they haven’t passed within a few days, you should see your doctor immediately.
How is Food Poisoning Treated?
The treatment for food poisoning depends on the cause and the severity of your symptoms. Usually, the illness resolves without treatment within a few days, though some types of food poisoning may last longer.
For people with mild diarrhea lasting less than 24 hours, treatment should consist of drinking plenty of clear fluids to replace body’ fluids that have been lost due to diarrhea. Mineral water, sports drinks and coconut water are the good choices. Avoid alcohol and caffeine drinks, which may worsen the condition.
People with severe diarrhea or vomiting may need hospitalization so they can receive fluids intravenously (into a vein).
For food poisoning that cause nervous system effect, your health provider may prescribe medication to treat symptoms as needed. For example, if you have certain kinds of bacterial food poisoning, your doctor may prescribe antibiotics.
Food poisoning caused by listeria needs to be treated with intravenous antibiotics during hospitalization. The sooner treatment begins, the better. During pregnancy, prompt antibiotic treatment may help keep the infection from affecting the baby.
What Can I Do to Prevent Food Poisoning?
Since most food poisoning incidents occur as a result of unhygienic and improper food handling practices, so by understanding how to prepare, cook and store food properly can greatly reduce your risk for food poisoning. Here are some things that you can do to minimize your risk.
- Always wash your hands with soap and running water before preparing or eating food.
- Try to keep different foods and food types separate during preparation and storage.
- Use a separate cutting board and knife for raw foods and cooked foods.
- Make sure to cook meat and poultry thoroughly before eating.
- Always wash fruits and vegetables before serving.
- When reheating food, be sure that the centre of the food reaches at least 75°C (170°F).
- If you’re keeping leftovers, refrigerate them within two hours of cooking. If you haven’t eaten the refrigerated leftovers within two or three days, place them in the freezer to eat later. Frozen food should be eaten within six weeks.
- Do not thaw foods at room temperature – put in the refrigerator for thawing.
- Throw away food that does not smell right or has fungus on it.
- Keep pets away from food.
- Keep canned foods in a clean and cool dry place.
- Always check “use by” date or “best before” date marked on the packaged foods before eating them.