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Everything You Need to Know About Food Poisoning

Team AckoOct 14, 2022

People love fast food, especially items prepared by street vendors and sold on food trucks. However, such food may not always be prepared under hygienic conditions and not be fit for consumption. Food poisoning is caused by eating such contaminated food and can cause symptoms like vomiting and diarrhoea. These are usually mild; however, in some cases, they may be severe and require medical attention. Read ahead to know more about this condition.

Food Poisoning

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What is Food Poisoning?

A gastrointestinal infection or food poisoning occurs due to eating contaminated or rotten food. This can also be known as a foodborne illness. Caused by infectious organisms, such as viruses and bacteria, food poisoning is usually not a serious issue and can be treated at home. However, severe and more serious cases of food poisoning may require hospitalisation and immediate attention.

Causes and Source of Food Poisoning

Causes of food poisoning are contaminated food, water, and other beverages. The food can be contaminated at any point of production, from harvesting to storage to preparation. There are pathogens in almost all the food humans eat. However, when cooking it, the heat kills these infectious organisms. Hence, the chances of food poisoning increase when the food is eaten raw and does not go through the cooking process.

Also, when a sick person prepares food with unsanitised hands, the food comes in direct contact with infectious organisms and can become contaminated, leading to food poisoning

Food poisoning can also occur when:

  • Food is not fresh or washed properly.

  • Food is not refrigerated or stored quickly at the proper temperature (especially in the case of meat).

  • Food is not cooked at a safe temperature.

The three major sources of food poisoning are bacteriae, viruses, and parasites.

1. Bacteria

The organisms most commonly causing bacterial food poisoning are:

  • E. coli, mainly Shiga toxin-producing E. coli (STEC) present in raw vegetables and uncooked meat.

  • Listeria monocytogenes present in raw sprouts, deli meats and soft cheeses.

  • Salmonella present in raw meat and uncooked eggs.

  • Staphylococcus aureus present in poultry, milk and dairy products, baked goods, and sandwiches with cream fillings.

  • Clostridium botulinum

  • Vibrio vulnificus

  • Shigella

  • Campylobacter

2. Viruses

The organisms causing viral food poisoning include:

  • Norovirus, also known as Norwalk virus. It present in leafy vegetables, fresh fruits, and shellfish.

  • Hepatitis A virus a present in shellfish, contaminated ice, and water.

  • Sapovirus

  • Astrovirus

  • Rotavirus

3. Parasites

These organisms live inside and feed off other organisms for their survival. Some of these organisms are extremely dangerous, and food poisoning caused by them can sometimes be fatal. They include:

  • Toxoplasma gondii

  • Trichinella

  • Single-celled protozoa

  • Ascaris lumbricoides 

  • Cryptosporidium

  • Giardia lamblia

A variety of tapeworms, such as:

  • Diphyllobothrium latum (fish tapeworm)

  • Taenia saginata (beef tapeworm)

  • Taenia solium (pork tapeworm)

  • Flukes (also called flatworms) such as, Opisthorchiidae (liver fluke) and Paragonimus (lung fluke)

  • Pinworms, or Enterobiasis

Food Poisoning Symptoms

The severity and onset of food poisoning symptoms, depend on the type of microorganisms that cause the illness; and the food itself. Some common food poisoning symptoms include: 

  • Nausea

  • Vomiting

  • Pain in the abdomen

  • Cramps in the stomach

  • Upset stomach

  • Diarrhoea

  • High temperature

  • Chills

  • Loss of appetite

  • Extreme fatigue and weakness

  • Headache

Please note: The food poisoning symptoms can be an indicator of the particular source of infection. For instance, in a viral infection, generally, a person has diarrhoea without blood or mucus. On the other hand, bacterial infection usually produces diarrhoea with mucus and blood. Also, acute vomiting is a prominent symptom of infection by Norovirus. 

Treatment for Food Poisoning

The treatment for food poisoning depends on the source of the infection and its severity. In most cases, it can be treated at home within a few days. Follow these tips for treating food poisoning at home:

  1. Hydration: Staying hydrated when recovering from food poisoning is crucial to compensate for the lost bodily fluids balance due to persistent diarrhoea and vomiting. Drinks high in electrolytes, coconut water, and fruit juice are great options. 

  2. Rest: Plenty of rest is required to combat food poisoning, as vomiting and diarrhoea exhaust your body.

  3. Eating habits: Stop eating anything for a few hours until your stomach settles. When you start eating, begin with low-fat, bland, and easy-to-digest foods. Avoid spicy food, junk food, caffeine, alcohol, dairy products, and nicotine. 

  4. Probiotics and herbal teas: Your doctor may recommend certain probiotics. You may also get relief from decaffeinated and soothing herbal teas such as chamomile, peppermint, etc. 

  5. Ice chips and water: If you have severe dehydration, you may try oral rehydration solutions, sucking on ice chips, and drinking small sips of water continuously. Also, try drinking clear broth and clear soda. 

  6. Over-the-counter (OTC) medicines: Some OTC medicines can be taken to manage diarrhoea and nausea, such as loperamide (Imodium) and Pepto-Bismol. However, checking with your healthcare provider before taking any medicines is advisable.

You must visit a doctor if you have severe symptoms that cannot be managed at home. Elderly, pregnant women, children, and immunocompromised people are also advised to visit a doctor. The doctor may prescribe certain antibiotics or other drugs depending on the type and severity of your symptoms. Following is the list of medicines which are usually prescribed for food poisoning:

  • Antiparasitic medications such as albendazole (Zentel) or mebendazole (Mebex), nitazoxanide (Nizonide), praziquantel (Cysticide), triclabendazole (Tricloben), pyrimethamine.

  • Antibiotics such as azithromycin (Azee), metronidazole (Flagyl), paromomycin, quinacrine, or furazolidone, ampicillin, ciprofloxacin (Cipro), spiramycin

  • A combination of antibiotics and anti-parasitic medicines such as tinidazole (Tini), sulfadiazine

If the food poisoning symptoms are more severe, you may require hospitalisation and receive an antitoxin or intravenous drip (IV) to treat extreme dehydration.

Prevention of Food Poisoning

A safe and hygienic food handling practice is of utmost importance to prevent food poisoning. You can also take certain steps to avoid food contamination, thereby reducing the chances of food poisoning. These include: 

  1. Be sure to clean your hands with soap before cooking or eating.

  2. Wash fruits and vegetables thoroughly before cooking.

  3. Cook the food properly at the right temperature to kill any germs.

  4. Store the food in the refrigerator, as it slows the growth of bacteria.

  5. Keep the utensils clean.

  6. Refrain from eating packaged food that is expired.

  7. Keep raw meat and eggs separate from other food items to prevent cross-contamination.

Avoid a few food items that are more likely to cause food poisoning. These include:

  • Raw and unwashed fruits and vegetables

  • Raw or undercooked sushi and fish products

  • Deli meats

  • Uncooked or unheated hot dogs

  • Ground beef

  • Unpasteurised milk and dairy products

Complications of Food Poisoning

Typically, food poisoning does not lead to major issues and can be managed effectively. Nevertheless, some individuals are more prone to developing complications. Elderly, immunocompromised individuals, infants, children, and pregnant women are more prone to complications and get severe food poisoning symptoms. Some of these complications are:

  • Severe dehydration

  • Miscarriage or stillbirth in pregnant women

  • Hemolytic uremic syndrome

  • Kidney injury

Risk factors of Food Poisoning

You are more likely to be affected by Food Poisoning if you have a weak immune system. Immunity can be compromised in the following conditions.

  1. Age: Children below 5 years of age and elderly people over 65 years of age are more likely to be affected by Food Poisoning, as they have a weaker immune system. 

  2. Pregnancy: Pregnant women have a lower ability to act against infections, as their bodies are highly stressed. 

  3. Medications: Certain medications like steroids can weaken your immune system and make you more susceptible to Food Poisoning. 

  4. Chronic illnesses: Conditions like diabetes and cancer weakens your immune system.

Conclusion

While we are all fond of street food, it has the highest probability of giving you food poisoning since most street vendors neglect hygiene. However, sometimes even home-cooked food can cause food poisoning. One of the best ways to prevent food poisoning is to eat it immediately after it is cooked. It is also advisable to avoid consuming undercooked or raw food.

If you develop food poisoning symptoms, you can manage mild symptoms at home by following the information mentioned above. However, if the symptoms are severe, you should rush to your nearest healthcare provider to seek treatment.

FAQs

How many days does it take to recover from food poisoning?

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Generally, it takes anywhere between 12 to 48 hours to recover from food poisoning. However, the elderly or people with a weakened immune system might take a little longer to recover.

Can food poisoning be painful?

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Yes, when infectious organisms produce toxins, it irritates the lining of your stomach and gut. This leads to inflammation in the stomach, causing abdominal pain and cramps.

Can food poisoning be contagious?

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Most of the time, food poisoning is not contagious. However, food poisoning caused by certain specific bacteria, viruses, and parasites can be contagious. Hence, it is necessary to take precautions to avoid its spread.

How can food poisoning be diagnosed?

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Usually, a doctor can diagnose food poisoning based on your symptoms. However, in some cases, blood and stool tests are also done. They may also prescribe a urine test to check for dehydration.

What food items are recommended when recovering from food poisoning?

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There is no restriction on food, but eating bland food which is easy to digest would be helpful. For example, rice, fruits, cereals, boiled vegetables, etc.

References:

  • https://www.cdc.gov/foodsafety/symptoms.html

  • https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/154555

  • https://my.clevelandclinic.org/health/diseases/21167-food-poisoning

Disclaimer: The content on this page is generic and shared only for informational and explanatory purposes. It is based on several secondary sources on the internet. Please consult a doctor before making any health-related decisions.

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