Health and Wellness

Food Poisoning

Last updated on October 20th, 2022 at 07:54 am

Food poisoning is an illness that occurs when certain foods cause harmful bacteria or viruses to grow inside your body.

What is food poisoning?

Food poisoning is an illness caused by eating contaminated food. It’s not usually severe and most people get better within a few days without treatment.

Signs and symptoms of food poisoning 

In most cases of food poisoning, the food is contaminated by bacteria, such as salmonella or Escherichia coli (E. coli), or a virus, such as norovirus.

The symptoms of food poisoning usually begin within one to two days of eating contaminated food. Although the symptoms may begin at any point between a few hours and several weeks later.

The major symptoms include:

  • feeling sick (nausea)
  • vomiting
  • diarrhoea, which may contain blood or mucus
  • stomach cramps and abdominal (tummy) pain
  • a lack of energy and weakness
  • loss of appetite
  • a high temperature (fever)
  • aching muscles
  • chills

In most cases, these symptoms will pass in a few days and you will make a full recovery. Learn about blood test for vitamins and minerals.

What to do if I get food poisoning? 

Most people with food poisoning recover at home and don’t need any specific treatment. However, there are some situations where you should see your doctor for advice.

Until you feel better, rest and drink fluids to prevent dehydration. Try to drink plenty of water, even if you can only sip it.

You should eat when you feel up to it. Try small meals at first and stick to bland foods–such as toast, crackers, bananas and rice until you feel better.

Oral rehydration solutions, which are available from pharmacies, are recommended for more vulnerable people. This can include the elderly and those with other health conditions.

Treating food poisoning 

Food poisoning can usually be treated at home without seeking medical advice. Most people will feel better within a few days.

It’s important to avoid dehydration by drinking plenty of water, even if you can only sip it. You will need to replace any fluids lost through vomiting and diarrhoea.

You should also:

  • rest as much as possible
  • eat when you feel up to it–sticking to light and non-fatty meals at first (bland foods such as toast, crackers, rice and bananas are good choices)
  • avoid alcohol, caffeine, fizzy drinks and spicy and fatty foods because they may make you feel worse

Contact your doctor if your symptoms are severe or don’t improve in a few days.

How food can be contaminated

Food can become contaminated at any stage during its production, processing, or cooking.

For example, it can become contaminated by:

  • not cooking food thoroughly (particularly meat)
  • not correctly storing food that needs to be chilled at below 5C
  • keeping cooked food unrefrigerated for a long period
  • eating food that has been touched by someone who is ill or has been in contact with someone with diarrhoea and vomiting
  • eating food that has passed its use-by date
  • cross-contamination (where harmful bacteria are spread between food, surfaces and equipment)

Cross-contamination can occur, for example, if you prepare raw chicken on a chopping board and don’t wash the board before preparing food that won’t be cooked (such as salad)

This can lead to harmful bacteria spreading from the chopping board to the salad.

It can also occur if raw meat is stored in a fridge above ready-to-eat meals and juices from the meat drip onto the food below.

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Types of Food contamination infections

Bacteria usually cause food contamination, but it can also sometimes be caused by viruses or parasites.

Bacteria include:

  • campylobacter
  • salmonella
  • listeria
  • Escherichia coli (E. coli)
  • shigella
Preventing food poisoning 

The best way to avoid getting food poisoning is to make sure you maintain high standards of personal and food hygiene when storing, handling and preparing food.

Remembering the ’four Cs’:

  • cleaning
  • cooking
  • chilling
  • cross-contamination (avoiding it)

It’s also recommended that you stick to a food’s use-by date and the storage instructions on the packet.

These steps are important because things such as a food’s appearance and smell aren’t a reliable way of telling if it’s safe to eat.

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Originally published in nidirect

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