Food poisoning, also called foodborne illness, occurs when you have ingested organisms or toxins in contaminated food or water. Food becomes tainted by said agents due to improper food handling (like incorrect food storage temperature) or poor sanitation (such as dirty utensils, workers who do not wash hands after going to the bathroom, etc.). Most food poisoning cases are mild and can be treated at home. However, certain types of food poisoning agents can cause severe illness that may ultimately lead to death.
Causes of Food Poisoning
There are generally two categories of known causes of food poisoning: infectious agents and toxic agents. Infectious agents include viruses, bacteria and parasites while examples of toxic agents are poisonous mushrooms, improperly prepared exotic food and pesticides on fruits and vegetables. The most common of these causes are salmonella, botulism and staphylococcal food poisoning.
Symptoms of Food Poisoning
Symptoms may vary depending on the type of contaminant and the amount taken. They usually start within 2 to 6 hours of eating the food. If not serious, the illness typically runs its course for one to two days. The most common symptoms of food poisoning include watery diarrhea, abdominal cramps, headache, nausea, vomiting, fever and weakness. Salmonella sufferers experience flu-like symptoms for about a week. Botulism victims go through the common symptoms plus dry mouth and blurry vision. As the illness progresses, the nervous system gets attacked by the toxins resulting to difficulty in swallowing and loss of facial and neck muscle control. Severe and unattended cases result in death.
Treatment of Food Poisoning
In most cases, it is easy to recover from food poisoning. The main goals are to relieve symptoms of diarrhea (avoid solid foods and dairy) and vomiting and to replace lost fluids (steady intake of water, fruit juice and other liquids as well as electrolytes for children). Slowly reintroduce solid foods by eating plain foods like rice, wheat, bread, potatoes, lean meats and low-sugar cereal. For toxins from shellfish and mushroom ingestion, you need to seek medical attention immediately so that the doctor can empty your stomach and get rid of the toxins.
When to Seek Medical Care
It is important to determine the signs when you should start seeking medical care for your food poisoning symptoms. If any of these occur it is best to go to your nearest hospital: when nausea, vomiting and diarrhea lasts longer than two to three days, when the sufferer is younger than 3 years old, when the abdominal symptoms are coupled with low grade fever, when there is blood in your stool, when you have diarrhea and you are unable to take liquids, when you have trouble breathing or swallowing, or when you have signs of dehydration (excessive thirst, feeling dizzy, light-headed or faint).
Simple Ways to Prevent Food Poisoning
An ounce of prevention is better than a pound of cure. Simple steps like washing your hands before handling any food material, making sure that kitchen utensils are cleaned and stored well, thoroughly cleaning raw food like fruits and vegetables, cooking food at the proper temperature and avoiding cross-contamination when handling raw foods in the kitchen (have a separate chopping board for chicken, pork, vegetables and beef) are good safety measures you can implement at home to avoid getting sick with food poisoning.