Learn More About Food Poisoning

What is food poisoning?

Food poisoning is an illness or infection that can be caused by eating food which has been contaminated with harmful bacteria, viruses, parasites and toxins.

Food poisoning can occur from eating food which is undercooked or prepared by someone who does not wash their hands after using the toilet. Food poisoning can be very serious or even fatal if the condition is not treated quickly.

There are many different types of food poisoning, some common ones include; salmonella, E. coli and norovirus.

Symptoms of food poisoning.

Food poisoning symptoms typically start within a few hours of eating the contaminated food. Symptoms may include vomiting, diarrhea and stomach cramps.

Symptoms can depend on what type of infection you have contracted from the food that was eaten, but in some cases there are no noticeable signs or symptoms at all.

If you think you have food poisoning it is important to:

  • Stay hydrated by drinking plenty of fluids such as water and electrolyte drinks.
  • Avoid alcohol or caffeine, these can make dehydration worse.
  • If you have severe diarrhea, try not to become dehydrated by taking small sips of fluid frequently throughout the day instead of large amounts at once.

If you think that the food poisoning is getting worse or severe symptoms develop such as; a high fever, blood in the vomit and stools (poop), shaking chills, confusion and swollen glands it is important to seek immediate medical attention.

These can be signs of more serious illnesses like:

  • Hemolytic uremic syndrome (HUS)
  • Toxic shock syndrome
  • Kidney failure

The symptoms of food poisoning are very similar to other illnesses such as gastroenteritis, flu or stomach bugs so it is important that you seek medical advice if your condition does not improve. If any members of the family have similar symptoms it is recommended that you all see your doctor.

Causes of Food Poisoning

There are many different types of food poisoning, some common ones include; salmonella, E. coli and norovirus.

Salmonella is usually caused by eating foods that have come into contact with fecal matter or bacteria-infected water such as meat or eggs which may not be cooked properly. Symptoms can take between 12-72 hours to develop and commonly include fever, diarrhea, vomiting and stomach cramps.

E.coli is a type of bacteria that can be found in food which has not been cooked properly or meat which may have come into contact with the contents from cows’ intestines during slaughtering. Symptoms typically take between one to three days after eating the contaminated food and include severe bloody diarrhea, stomach cramps and vomiting.

Norovirus is a very contagious virus which can be found in the stool or vomit of an infected person as well as surfaces that they have touched such as; doorknobs, hand rails etc., Symptoms typically start one to two days after eating the contaminated food and can last for up to two days. Symptoms include stomach cramps, vomiting and diarrhea which may be watery or contain blood.

Norovirus is most common during winter months as it thrives in colder climates such as; schools, colleges/universities and cruise ships where people are living in close contact with each other.

If you think that your symptoms may be due to a contaminated meal or have any of these symptoms it is important not wait for them to go away but speak to your doctor as soon as possible so they can diagnose what type of food poisoning you have contracted and recommend the appropriate treatment.

If anyone else in your family has similar symptoms it is important to let them know that they should see their doctor as soon as possible also, this will avoid further contamination.

Treatment for Food Poisoning

It is important to drink plenty of fluids such as water and electrolyte drinks during food poisoning, especially if you have diarrhea because this will prevent dehydration which can be life threatening.

If symptoms are mild it may not even require any treatment from a doctor but they still recommend that you stay at home for the remainder of the day or until the symptoms clear up.

If you think your food poisoning is getting worse or severe symptoms develop, such as bloody diarrhea and vomiting, you should seek medical attention immediately.

The most common treatment for food poisoning is intravenous (IV) fluids which help replace lost fluids and electrolytes that can be life threatening if not administered in time.

The other treatment administered by a doctor is antibiotics to kill the bacteria causing your food poisoning. This will depend on what type of bacteria has caused the illness and how serious it is.

Prevention methods for Food Poisoning

One of the best ways to prevent food poisoning is by storing and preparing your food hygienically so you will avoid any bacteria that cause illness such as; E Coli, Salmonella etc.,

For example if you are going to a picnic or BBQ make sure that all meat has been thoroughly cooked in an oven at boiling point for at least 15 minutes before you eat it.

If preparing food in the home, always wash your hands thoroughly with soap and water to prevent any harmful bacteria that may be present on your skin coming into contact with the food you are preparing which can cause illness if not cooked properly.

It is also very important not leave foods out of the refrigerator for more than two hours which is the safest time period to store food without it being contaminated.

If any of your prepared food has been left out beyond this time frame, discard it immediately as bacteria will start multiplying and can cause severe illness if eaten.

Try to avoid eating undercooked meat such as; ground beef or pate as they contain harmful bacteria that may not be killed if not cooked properly.

When eating out it is important to ensure you eat in reputable restaurants and cafes with good hygiene standards as there are many cases of food poisoning caused by establishments who do not store, prepare or cook their foods properly which has resulted in people becoming very ill.

When to see a doctor

There are many cases of food poisoning that do not require any medical attention. Food poisoning symptoms are very similar to the common flu or stomach virus. Most cases of food poisoning on their own will clear up in a few days with some rest and over-the-counter medication, however there are times when seeing a doctor may help you get better faster or is even necessary. If you are experiencing any of the following symptoms, it is important to see your doctor as soon as possible:

    • Severe symptoms, including a fever above 101°F and severe abdominal pain.
    • Symptoms that do not improve or get worse after three days of treatment at home with over-the counter medications.
    • Diarrhea lasting more than three days.
    • Blood in your stool
    • Signs of dehydration such as no tears when you cry, decreased urination/dry mouth, dizziness when standing up from sitting down too quickly etc..

If any one of these symptoms are present it is important to see a doctor or go to the emergency room immediately.