Food poisoning is a common ailment that can affect anyone. It is caused by eating food contaminated with bacteria, viruses, or parasites. It can also be chemical contamination. While food poisoning can be a serious illness, you can take steps to prevent it from happening to your family. Children, pregnant women, and older adults are at the highest risk for food poisoning. Knowing the causes of food poisoning can help families prevent serious illness.
Symptoms of Food Poisoning
The source of contamination affects the symptoms of food poisoning. After consuming contaminated food, signs and symptoms may appear immediately or may take days or weeks to manifest. Food poisoning-related illness typically lasts a few hours to several days.
Some more serious symptoms of food poisoning are:
- Vomiting often and having trouble swallowing liquids
- Bloody stools or vomit
- Greater than three days of diarrhea
- Acute discomfort or abdominal cramps
- An oral temperature greater than 100.4 F (38 C)
- Dehydration warning signs or symptoms that include excessive thirst, dry mouth, insufficient or no urination, extreme fatigue, dizziness, or lightheadedness
- Neurological signs, including tingling in the arms, weak muscles, and blurred vision
Causes of Food Poisoning
Young children, expectant mothers and their unborn infants, elderly adults, and those with compromised immune systems are particularly vulnerable to the seriousness and even life-threatening effects of food poisoning. These people should exercise particular caution by staying away from the following foods:
- Meat and poultry that are raw or rare
- Fish and shellfish, such as oysters, clams, mussels, and scallops, that are raw or undercooked
- Items that may contain raw or undercooked eggs, such as cookie dough and homemade ice cream
- Uncooked – Alfalfa, bean, clover, and radish sprouts
- Juices and ciders without pasteurization
- Milk and milk products without pasteurization
- Blue-veined cheese, unpasteurized cheese, and soft cheeses like feta, Brie, and Camembert
- Chilled meat spreads and pates
- Uncooked luncheon meats, deli meats, and hot dogs
Prevention of Food Poisoning
To prevent food poisoning at home, here are some helpful precautions:
Before, during, and after making food, wash your hands and the kitchen surfaces. Your hands, utensils, cutting boards, counters, and other areas of your kitchen are just a few of the sites where germs might persist.
Keep raw meat, poultry, seafood, and eggs separate from prepared items. Keep raw meat separate from other foods in your refrigerator and shopping cart, and use separate chopping boards.
To eradicate hazardous germs, prepare meals to the proper internal temperature. Put a food thermometer to use.
Keep your refrigerator at 40 degrees or less. After cooking, refrigerate leftovers within two hours (or one hour if exposed to temperatures above 90°F, such as in a hot car).
(Centers for Disease Control and Prevention)
When to Go to the ER
Contact your primary care physician or go to the emergency room if your symptoms last longer than 24 hours or if you can’t consume simple fluids. If you get dehydrated, you should seek emergency care. Most adults can go one day without eating, but if vomiting persists to the point of dehydration, medical help is needed. A high fever can also signify a more serious sickness, so be mindful that adults can tolerate dehydration better than young children. (Emergency Physicians.org)
Food poisoning is a serious problem that can have severe consequences. It is important to be aware of the causes of food poisoning and to take steps to prevent it. If you or a member of your family experience food poisoning, it is vital to seek medical attention immediately. With prompt treatment, most cases of food poisoning can be successfully resolved.
“Food Poisoning.” Mayo Clinic, Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research, 26 June 2020, www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/food-poisoning/symptoms-causes/syc-20356230.
“Fast Facts about Food Poisoning.” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 22 Feb. 2022, www.cdc.gov/foodsafety/food-poisoning.html.
“Food Poisoning – Know When to Go to the ER.” – Know When to Go to the ER, www.emergencyphysicians.org/article/know-when-to-go/food-poisoning.