Food poisoning, also called foodborne illness, is an illness caused by eating contaminated food or water. Most cases are caused by common bacteria such as Staphylococcus or E coli. There are four types of food poisoning:
- Due to toxins of plants and animals
- Due to chemicals (drugs, pesticides, metals, additives)
- Due to toxins of microorganisms (bacteria, viruses, parasites, mold)
- Due to toxins derived from degradation of food (ex: acute food poisoning that occurs with certain types of fish where a toxin is exposed due to poor storage)
Food poisoning may be also occur due to ingestion of contaminated food or a deficiency in hygiene standards in the preparation and preservation of food. Infectious organisms or their toxins can contaminate food at any point of during processing or production. Contamination can also occur at home if food is incorrectly handled or cooked. It is important to remember to always wash hands before cooking and eating, make sure food is properly sealed and stored, as well as cook foods such as meat and eggs thoroughly.
Individuals who are at higher risk of food poisoning include:
- An individual with a weakened immune system
- An individual with a serious medical condition (diabetes, cancer, HIV/AIDS)
- An individual who has traveled to a foreign country where germ exposure is more likely
Most often, food poisoning is mild and resolves without treatment (takes up to 3-5 days). In more severe cases, going to the hospital is crucial in order to prevent complications from occurring (such as dehydration, kidney problems, and others). Blood tests, stool tests and tests on food may be conducted in order to determine the exact cause of the food poisoning.
What are the symptoms associated with food poisoning?
Symptoms associated with food poisoning most often depend on the substance and quantity ingested. They may start within a few hours after eating contaminated food and can manifest into gastrointestinal disorders (such vomiting, abdominal pain and diarrhea). Other symptoms may also present themselves such as mouth dryness, difficulty speaking, difficulty swallowing, headache, loss of appetite, double vision, tachycardia, sweating and skin problems (redness, hives).
What to do
Most of the time, food poisoning tends to resolve on its own. The goal is to ease symptoms and keep the body hydrated by drinking plenty of fluids (such as water, coconut water, sports drinks, and fruit juice). Methods that should be obtained during such instances include the following:
- Getting plenty of rest
- Controlling nausea and vomiting
- Manage the diarrhea through certain medications
- Most important: Promptly call a poison control center or emergency room, reporting what was eaten and in what quantities
What not to do
Instructions on what not to do in cases regarding food poisoning include the following:
- Do not take any drugs without taking to a doctor first (can lead to more severe symptoms such as fever and blood diarrhea)
- Do not wait for symptoms to simply pass on their own
- Do not resort to any unnecessary remedies (such as drinking milk)
- Do not drink caffeine (it can irritate the digestive tract)
Disclaimer: The information in this article does not in any way replace the intervention or signs associated with this type of emergency, but rather only provides simple tips as how to keep the situation under control while waiting for a medical rescue team to arrive.