Over this past summer, pervasive cases of food poisoning became increasingly common. So we thought we’d shed some light on these types of illnesses and how to prevent them.
What is foodborne illness?
Foodborne illness, also known as food poisoning, is a preventable public health challenge. It results from ingestion of foods contaminated with microorganisms or chemicals. The contamination of food may occur at any stage in the process from food production to consumption (“farm to fork”) and can result from environmental contamination, including pollution of water, soil or air.
Everyone is at risk for getting a foodborne illness. However, some categories of people are at greater risk for experiencing a more serious illness. Those categories are infants, young children, pregnant women and their unborn babies, older adults, and people with weakened immune systems (such as those with AIDS, cancer, diabetes, kidney disease, and transplant patients). Some people may become ill after ingesting only a few harmful bacteria; others may remain symptom free after ingesting thousands.
Signs & Symptoms:
Food poisoning symptoms vary with the source of contamination. Most types of food poisoning cause one or more of the following:
- Watery diarrhea
- Abdominal pain and cramps
Signs and symptoms may start within hours after eating the contaminated food, or they may begin days or even weeks later. Sickness caused by food poisoning generally lasts from a few hours to several days.
- Control nausea and vomiting
- Avoid solid foods until vomiting ends. Then eat light, bland foods, such as salty crackers, bananas, rice, or bread.
- Sipping liquids may help avoid vomiting.
- Don’t eat fried, greasy, spicy, or sweet foods.
- Don’t take anti-nausea or anti-diarrhea medication without asking your doctor. They may exacerbate some kinds of diarrhea. Your doctor may give you anti-nausea medication if you are at risk of being dehydrated.
- Prevent Dehydration
- Drink clear fluids, starting with small sips and gradually drink more.
- If vomiting and diarrhea last more than 24 hours, drink an oral rehydration solution.
When to see a doctor?
Seek medical attention if you experience any of the following:
- Frequent episodes of vomiting and inability to keep liquids down
- Bloody vomit or bloody stool
- Diarrhea for more than 3 days
- Extreme pain or severe abdominal cramping
- An oral temperature higher than 101.5 F (38.6 C)
- Signs or symptoms of dehydration — excessive thirst, dry mouth, little or no urination, severe weakness, dizziness, or lightheadedness
- Neurological symptoms such as blurry vision, muscle weakness and tingling in the arms
To prevent food poisoning at home:
- Wash your hands, utensils and food surfaces often. Wash your hands, utensils, cutting boards and other surfaces you use well with warm, soapy water before and after handling or preparing food.
- Keep raw foods separate from ready-to-eat foods. When shopping, preparing or storing food, keep raw meat, poultry & fish away from other foods. This prevents cross-contamination.
- Cook foods to a safe temperature. You can kill harmful organisms in most foods by cooking them to the right temperature. Cook ground beef to 160 F (71.1 C); steaks, lamb and veal to145 F (62.8 C); chicken and turkey to 165 F (73.9 C). Make sure fish are cooked thoroughly.
- Refrigerate or freeze perishable foods promptly — within two hours of purchasing or preparing them or one hour if the room temperature is above 90 F (32.2 C).
- Defrost food safely. Don’t thaw food at room temperature. The safest way to thaw food is to defrost it in the refrigerator. If you microwave frozen food using the “defrost” setting, be sure to cook it immediately.
- Throw it out when in doubt. If you aren’t sure if a food has been prepared, served or stored safely, discard it. Food left at room temperature too long may contain bacteria or toxins that can’t be destroyed by cooking. Don’t taste food that you’re unsure about- just throw it out.