Your Guide to Avoiding Food Poisoning

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Foodborne diseases are steadily increasing in India, despite advancements in technology and better healthcare facilities. By 2030, numbers will reach 150-177 million, up from 100 million in 2011. This rate of ascent, while alarming, can be prevented through awareness and timely diagnosis. Read on to learn more about food poisoning, its symptoms, diagnosis, and treatment.

What is food poisoning?

Food poisoning, also known as foodborne illness, is caused by eating contaminated foods. Infectious organisms like bacteria, viruses, parasites, and their toxins are the main cause of food poisoning. If not handled properly, food can be contaminated at any stage during production, processing, or cooking.

What causes food poisoning?

Prime reasons include:

  • Not cooking food thoroughly (mainly applicable to meat)
  • Improper storage of food, especially meat and vegetables
  • Reusing cooked food for longer periods of time
  • Food can be contaminated by people who are suffering from an illness like diarrhoea,and vomiting
  • Cross-contamination (transfer of harmful bacteria between food, surfaces, and equipment)
Food poisoning

What are the signs and symptoms of food poisoning?

Signs and symptoms can differ from person to person; some may get it within a few hours of eating contaminated food, while for others, symptoms may begin days or even weeks later. These can last for a few hours to several days.
Most commonly, you can experience:

  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhoea (watery or bloody)
  • Abdominal pain and cramps
  • Fever

When should I get medical help if I have food poisoning?

Consult with a doctor if you are facing:
  • Frequent episodes of vomiting
  • Blood in your stools or vomit
  • Diarrhoea for more than three days
  • Severe abdominal cramping
  • Fever with a temperature higher than 100.4°F
  • Dehydration, which may include symptoms like excessive thirst, dry mouth, little or no urination, severe weakness, or lightheadedness
  • Blurry vision, muscle weakness, or a tingling sensation in your arms

What are the causative organisms of food poisoning?

Food contamination can be caused mainly by three types of microorganisms which includes:

  • Bacteria such as Salmonella, Shigella, Escherichia coli, Vibrio cholerae, Campylobacter, and Clostridium
  • Viruses such as Rotavirus, hepatitis A and E, and Norovirus
  • Parasites such as Entamoeba histolytica, Giardia, Ascaris, Cryptosporidium, and Echinococcus

Additionally, certain toxins can also lead to food poisoning. These toxins may be naturally occurring, like mycotoxins, which are produced by certain fungi, or they may be added unintentionally during the cultivation process, such as heavy metals, or even intentionally (malpractice).

Who is at a greater risk of getting food poisoning?

Groups at a higher risk
  • Older adults: This category of people usually have a low immune system so they can develop infections easily
  • Pregnant women: During pregnancy a lot of metabolic and circulatory changes take place in a woman’s body, thus increasing the risk of food poisoning.
  • Infants and young children: They are more susceptible to infections due to an underdeveloped immune system
  • People with chronic diseases: People with diseases like diabetes, heart failure, and liver disease may have reduced immune response, making them more vulnerable

What are the complications related to food poisoning?

Complications include:

  • Dehydration: Dehydration is the most common complication associated with food poisoning since continuous vomiting and diarrhoea can lead to the loss of electrolytes and fluids from the body. This can be especially dangerous for children, older adults, and people with poor immune systems.
  • Haemolytic uremic syndrome (HUS): In this, kidney’s filtering system gets blocked as a result of the destruction of red blood cells. In severe cases, the kidneys stop functioning, leading to acute kidney injury (sudden and temporary loss of kidney function). Escherichia coli (E. coli) is the most common cause of haemolytic uremic syndrome
  • Listeria infection: Caused by Listeria, this condition primarily affects pregnant women, newborns, older adults, and people with weakened immune systems. In the case of pregnant women, this can lead to miscarriages, stillbirths, premature births, or even fatal infections. Affected infants may develop neurological damage and delayed development later in life. Older adults can develop severe infections in the bloodstream or brain
  • Guillain-Barre syndrome: This is a rare disorder in which your body’s immune system attacks the nerves in the peripheral nervous system. It is most commonly caused by Campylobacter, which is found in undercooked poultry
  • Irritable bowel syndrome: A very common disorder that usually affects the stomach and intestines. It is caused by various bacteria, viruses and fungi
  • Reactive arthritis: In this, a person experiences joint pain and swelling that are triggered by infections in other parts of the body, most often the intestines, genitals, or urinary tract. Causative organisms include bacteria (more commonly, Campylobacter and Salmonella), viruses, and parasites

How is food poisoning diagnosed?

Food poisoning is most frequently diagnosed clinically by taking a detailed history of your illness, for example,  symptoms, their duration, and recent food habits  Based on this information, your doctor may conduct blood tests or a stool culture and sensitivity test to identify the underlying organisms and plan  treatment accordingly.

What is the treatment for food poisoning?

First aid measures include:

Replacing lost fluids and electrolytes: In adults, liquids can be given to replace fluids and electrolytes, which may include:

  1. Water
  2. Coconut water
  3. Fruit juices
  4. Sports drinks
  5. Soups and broths

In the case of older adults, oral rehydration solutions (ORS) that contain glucose and electrolytes are given (for example, Pedialyte, Naturalyte, Infalyte, and Ceralyte)

Children can also be given oral rehydration solution, but only under a doctor’s advice. For infants, breast milk or formula milk can be given.

Over-the-counter medications: In some cases, over-the-counter medications like loperamide and bismuth subsalicylate treat diarrhoea. These medications are not advisable for children and infants.

medications:

  • Antibiotics: These are given in cases of more serious bacterial infections
  • Probiotics: Probiotics are live microbes that are similar to the microbes present in the digestive tract

How can food poisoning be prevented?

Preventive measures include:
  • Separating uncooked meat, fish, and other animal products from other kinds of foods
  • Refrigerating salads (in raw form) if not used immediately, as there are chances of contamination
  • Proper storage of foods
  • Washing your hands before touching food
  • Washing fruits and vegetables before eating, cooking, and cutting
  • Keeping cooking surfaces and utensils clean
  • Cooking foods well and at high temperatures

What foods must be taken and avoided when I have food poisoning?

Recommended foods include those that are bland, simple to digest, and low-fat such as:

  • Rice
  • Oatmeal
  • Bananas
  • Boiled vegetables
  • Diluted fruit juices
  • Toast

Avoid the following foods:

  • Fatty foods
  • Fried foods
  • Diary foods, especially milk and cheese
  • Foods that are high in sugar
  • Spicy foods
  • Caffeine
  • Avoid alcohol and smoking as well

How can I prevent food poisoning?

For the prevention of food poisoning, follow these simple measures, including:
  • Before ordering food for delivery, try to inquire about their food safety practices
  • Arrange for delivery when someone is at home so that foods such as seafood, meat, poultry, eggs, and dairy products can be stored quickly in the refrigerator and have minimal chances of getting contaminated
  • Examine food items and their packaging carefully to ensure that they are intact
  • Eat foods that are thoroughly cooked
  • Clean and sanitise your refrigerator regularly
Dr. Keertana
WRITTEN BY

Dr. Keertana

PharmD
A medical writer with a Doctorate in Pharmacy, she writes vividly about medicine and science. Read her contributions and writings about various healthcare topics.

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