Poison is not always packaged in a tiny bottle, powder form, or as a fume that is released into the air. Sometimes, it is found in your refrigerator, on your table, or on your barbecue grill. Scary, but true. Food poisoning is often downplayed, with most people thinking it is temporary and can be cured with the right medication and rest. The truth is that it can cost your life in a nanosecond. Learn about the symptoms, causes and effective treatment for food poisoning in this guide.
What is Food Poisoning?
Thousands of individuals each year become victims to foodborne diseases. Researchers have found that food poisoning is a major public health concern affecting 4.1 million Australians each year. In addition, food poisoning has been known to cause long-lasting effects such as gastrointestinal problems and sometimes even blindness.
Food poisoning is a severe foodborne illness that is caused by ingesting high-risk foods that are contaminated by germs or bacteria, such as raw meat, deli meats, unpasteurized milk, untreated water, or even ready-to-eat foods that are contaminated by bacteria present in raw foods.
Some food poisoning only causes mild illness, while others can cause serious, even life-threatening illness. You will generally feel the worst two or three days after exposure to food containing harmful bacteria. After this initial period of time has passed, food poisoning normally subsides within 24 to 48 hours. However, if food poisoning isn't treated properly it can be very serious and even deadly.
Foods that cause foodborne intoxication typically contain toxins that are produced by certain kinds of bacteria often found on the surface of food such as staphylococcus aureus and clostridium botulinum. There may be some food safety risk involved with food poisoning.
Food poisoning can affect anyone, but infants and young children, older adults, pregnant women and people with a weakened immune system, are more likely to have severe food poisoning symptoms.
Food Poisoning Symptoms
Ingesting invisible foodborne germs makes people sick. You may manifest mild to severe symptoms, depending on the type of germ present in the food you ate. Common symptoms of food poisoning include:
- Stomach pain
- Watery diarrhea
- Severe dehydration
- Abdominal cramps
- Muscle aches
- Bloody stools
- Inflammatory bowel disease
A major complication of food poisoning is dehydration, a condition wherein the body loses too much water, salts and minerals. Healthy people who drink enough fluids to replace fluids lost through vomiting and severe diarrhea should not have a problem with dehydration. However, those with compromised immune systems may experience extreme thirst, dizziness and less frequent urination, which are all signs of dehydration. Dehydration can cause kidney failure or other life-threatening conditions if it is not treated properly.
Different Types of Food Poisoning
Many types of food poisoning are contagious and can be spread from person to person if proper hygiene procedures are not followed by food handlers. The different types of food poisoning include:
Bacterial food poisoning
This type of food poisoning is caused by pathogens, such as Salmonella spp., Campylobacter spp., E.coli, as well as a wide range of listeria infections, as a result of eating undercooked meat. Foods most likely to be sources of infection include ground beef, raw shellfish and dairy products.
Viral food poisoning
Food poisoning of this kind stems from viruses like Vibrio cholerae O1 or hepatitis A virus (HAV), Rotavirus, Adenovirus and Norovirus, which is also known as stomach flu. The virus that causes this type of food poisoning can be found in the stool of an infected person. A food handler or server who has the virus and does not wash their hands properly or follow other safety procedures can easily transmit the virus to others through raw produce or cooked food.
Parasitic food poisoning
This occurs after ingesting parasitic material found in contaminated food or drinking water. Foodborne parasitic infestation involves infection by microscopic parasites such as Giardia spp., Echinococcus multilocularis or Cryptosporidium spp.
Food poisoning may also occur through the consumption of food that has been exposed to hazardous chemicals such as poisonous mushrooms, food additives, cleaning compounds, pesticides and poisonous metals.
Causes of Food Poisoning
Food poisoning is often a result of lack of food safety and hygiene, hence leading to foodborne illnesses that affect people differently depending on their age, health condition and the type of food they consumed. There are several ways in which food may become contaminated with bacteria, which include:
- Poor hygiene practices during cooking
- Inadequate storage conditions for cooked foods
- Cross-contamination between raw foods and ready-to-eat food
- Improper food handling
Although food poisoning is almost always caused by the unhygienic manner in which food is prepared, there are also some underlying conditions that increase the risk of food poisoning. These include:
- Diabetes makes food poisoning worse because glucose levels may become too high or low during food poisoning.
- Alcoholism makes food poisoning worse because alcohol can irritate the lining of the stomach and intestines
- Stress increases acid production in the stomach, making food poisoning worse.
For these people, treatment for food poisoning is slightly different due to their predispositions.
Treatment for Food Poisoning
The treatment approach to food poisoning depends on what type it is but usually includes drinking plenty of fluids to prevent dehydration and reduce severe symptoms. In some cases, food poisoning may require hospitalisation if symptoms are severe or complications develop. The following steps are critical to proper food handling to prevent food poisoning:
- Cook food thoroughly
- Refrigerate food promptly
- Separate raw foods from cooked foods
- Wash hands regularly
- Wash knives and cutting boards after contact with raw food
- Clean surfaces that might come in contact with food
Depending on how it is prepared, food can make us healthy or ill. For that reason, we must always make sure that food products are cooked properly in sanitary conditions, otherwise pathogens can be contracted and cause food poisoning.