Food poisoning is a common, usually mild, but occasionally deadly illness.
Food poisoning happens when someone eats food or drink that is contaminated with bacteria, or its toxins. Very occasionally, toxins from chemicals or pesticides can also cause food poisoning.
You might think the solution is to get rid of all the bacteria. But it isn’t possible and you wouldn’t want to do it, even if you could. Bacteria are all around us, including in food, and sometimes they can be good for you.
Food Poisoning Symptoms
Symptoms of food poisoning depend on the type of contaminant and the amount eaten. The symptoms can develop rapidly, within 30 minutes, or slowly, worsening over days to weeks. Most of the common contaminants cause nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, and abdominal cramping.
The symptoms of food poisoning occur because food-borne bacteria release toxins or poisons as a byproduct of their growth in the body. These toxins (except those from C. botulinum) cause inflammation and swelling of the stomach, small intestine and/or large intestine. The result is abdominal muscle cramping, vomiting, diarrhea, fever, and the chance of dehydration. The severity of symptoms depends on the type of bacteria, the amount consumed, and the individual’s general health and sensitivity to the bacterial toxin.
Food poisoning can affect one person or it can occur as an outbreak in a group of people who all ate the same contaminated food.
Even though food poisoning is relatively rare in the United States, it affects between 60 and 80 million people worldwide each year and results in approximately 6 to 8 million deaths.
Food poisoning tends to occur at picnics, school cafeterias, and large social functions. These are situations where food may be left unrefrigerated too long or food preparation techniques are not clean. Food poisoning often occurs from eating undercooked meats, dairy products, or food containing mayonaise (like coleslaw or potato salad) that have sat out too long.
The first step in preventing food poisoning is to assume that all foods may cause food-borne illness. Follow these steps to prevent food poisoning:
Wash hands, food preparation surfaces and utensils thoroughly before and after handling raw foods to prevent recontamination of cooked foods.
Keep refrigerated foods below 40 degrees F.
Treatment of food Poisoning
Most infections last 24 to 48 hours, during which time fluid is often lost from vomiting and diarrhea. To prevent dehydration, drink plenty of cooled boiled water and use dehydration powders if the symptoms continue.
Sometimes antibiotic treatment is necessary; this can be determined by testing for the micro-organism responsible.
The most common treatment for simple food poisoning is simply supportive care at home with clear liquids to stay hydrated, and after vomiting or diarrhea subside, the gradual return to eating beginning with a bland diet (such as rice, bread, potatoes and milk).