Food Poisoning : Symptoms, Causes & Prevention

by Ishani Bose last updated -

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Food poisoning is a major health problem in the world today. According to a report published by the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in April 2019, incidents of several types of food poisoning infections have been on a rise over the last few years. The reason behind this is not just the fact that the food we consume is becoming increasingly unsafe, but also because new tools and mechanisms have been initiated to identify these occurrences more accurately. So what are the common symptoms and causes of this health hazard? Let’s find out in detail.

What is Food Poisoning?

Food poisoning, commonly referred to as foodborne illness is a health condition, which is caused by consuming contaminated food. It is usually caused by infectious organisms such as viruses, parasites, and bacteria. If food isn’t handled or cooked properly, it can result in a severe case of food poisoning. How long food poisoning lasts is entirely dependent on one’s immunity. In most cases, this condition can be cured without any kind of medical supervision or treatment, but if the symptoms prolong, it would be advisable to visit a doctor.  A prolonged and unsupervised case of the condition can further lead to gastroenteritis, which is a condition that results in the inflammation of the gut lining, especially the stomach, and intestines.

Symptoms of Food Poisoning

The severity of food poisoning symptoms depends on the infectious organism you have contracted. These symptoms can either strike you individually or in combination. The onset of the infection can be quite grievous and acute which can exacerbate or subside depending on its severity. According to the CDC, the following are the most common symptoms:

  • Abdominal cramps
  • Stomach pain
  • Dehydration
  • Vomiting
  • Nausea
  • Loss of appetite
  • Diarrhea
  • Fever

These symptoms could show up within a few moments of you consuming the contaminated food or even weeks after you had it. The risk factor is more among older people, pregnant women, infants as well as people with weak immunity and suffering from another chronic disease. If any of the following symptoms occur, it would be advisable to visit a doctor as soon as possible, says CDC.

  • Blood in vomit
  • Blood in stools
  • High fever that doesn’t subside
  • Dizziness
  • Neurological implications such as blurry vision, muscle weakness, tingling feeling in the arms and legs.
  • Diarrhea that lasts for 2-3 days
  • Frequent vomiting that leads to constant dehydration
  • Significant decrease in urination

Causes of Food Poisoning

According to the Australian Government Department of Health, the food needs to be handled with care at every level of production- right from harvesting, transportation, storage until it reaches the buyer. The most common cause of this hazardous health condition is the transfer of infectious organisms when food is being carelessly handled between these different stages. Additionally, if food is not properly washed or cooked, there is a good chance of the person contracting the disease.

 

Let’s take a look at the common causes of food poisoning below :

  • Consuming raw and ready-to-eat food such as salads and packaged foods
  • Eating meat and various poultry products
  • Unpasteurized milk
  • Contaminated water
  •  Unhygienic handling of food
  • Any food product that has surpassed its expiry date

Prevention of Food Poisoning

Food poisoning can easily be prevented if we keep ourselves and our surroundings clean. Let’s take a look at the steps to prevent it, below :

  • Maintain personal hygiene while handling and eating food
  • Keep utensils and your kitchen counters clean while cooking and serving
  • Promptly refrigerate perishable food items
  • Cook food at a safe temperature
  • Prevent cross-contamination by keeping poultry items separate from everything else
  • Safely defrost food
  • Don’t take chances with leftover food. If you have the slightest doubt of it going bad, throw it.
  • Refrain from eating anything that’s raw, under-cooked, out-dated or unpasteurized.

Treatment of Food Poisoning

Food poisoning can be treated with simple home remedies. However, if it’s acute, it would be advisable to seek medical help. Let us look at some of the ways in which this health condition can be treated.

  • Food: A person suffering from a severe case of food poisoning is often advised to have food that’s easy to digest such as porridge.
  • Water: As one of the symptoms of food poisoning is acute dehydration, it would be advisable to drink a lot of water and stay hydrated all the time.
  • Probiotics: Probiotics (good bacteria and yeasts), such as yogurt, can also be helpful in treating food poisoning. A study published in Evidence-based Child Health: A Cochrane Review-Journal, showed how probiotics helped children suffering from a severe case of food poisoning and reduced their average duration of hospitalization by 1.12 days. 
  • Medicines: If home remedies don’t help you get better, your medical practitioner could prescribe you antibiotics to treat the symptoms. If you have a fever of over 100°F, ask your doctor if you can take ibuprofen to control it.

Like they say prevention is better than cure. So, eat healthily, be wise and ensure you maintain hygiene always while handling, cooking and serving food to prevent food poisoning and other gastric ailments.

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About the Author

An alumnus of St Xavier’s College, Mumbai, Ishani is a journalist-turned-content writer, with an avid interest in politics, history, fashion, food, health, arts, and culture. She is a food fanatic, who loves to try out interesting and healthy recipes in her free time. When she isn’t writing or cooking, you’ll find her Instagramming (more often than she’d like), wasting time on an assortment of things such as shopping, netflixing, and chasing her up-to-no-good pet cat throughout the house.

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