Food poisoning and foodborne illness are general terms that are used to describe an illness that occurs when someone ingests food products that have been contaminated with infectious organisms, usually bacteria. Food poisoning can also occur when someone ingests multicellular parasites, such as fish tapeworms, or viruses, but the most common types of food poisoning are caused by bacteria. Some of the types of bacteria that can cause food poisoning include E. coli, Salmonella, Staphyloccoccus aureus, Listeria, Shigella, Clostridium botulinum and Campylobacter. E. coli and Staphylococcus are some of the most common culprits behind food poisoning cases, while Salmonella poisoning has the highest death toll. Death from food poisoning is not common in healthy individuals, but it can occur. Death and severe complications due to food poisoning are more common in young children, the elderly and people with compromised immune systems.
Different types of food poisoning may have slightly different symptoms. For example, Clostridium botulinum causes a type of food poisoning called botulism. Botulism can involve the general symptoms of food poisoning, but muscle paralysis may also occur due to the effects of a potent toxin that the bacteria produce. In general, most types of food poisoning result in nausea, abdominal cramps, vomiting and diarrhea. In severe cases of food poisoning, there may be blood present in the loose stools. In addition, fever, headache, fatigue and muscle weakness may occur in food poisoning cases. The symptoms of food poisoning occur anywhere from several hours to a few days after eating contaminated food; the timing depends on what type of food poisoning has occurred.
Mild cases of food poisoning resolve within a few days. Care must be taken to prevent dehydration due to diarrhea and nausea. Individuals with food poisoning should drink plenty of fluids to remain hydrated. Alcohol and caffeine should be avoided in cases of food poisoning, because these substances increase dehydration. Do not take diuretic medications if you are in danger of becoming dehydrated; talk to your doctor if you are taking diuretics for treatment of another condition. Milk and other dairy products may worsen the gastrointestinal symptoms of food poisoning. Avoid solid foods if you have diarrhea. If a child has food poisoning, it is a good idea to give them an electrolyte solution, such as Pedialyte, to ensure that they stay hydrated; these products can be purchased in drug stores. Adults with food poisoning can take over-the-counter medications to decrease the occurrence of diarrhea; however, if you develop bloody diarrhea you should seek medical attention before taking anti-diarrheal medications.
More severe cases of food poisoning may require more medical intervention. If vomiting and diarrhea are severe, it may be necessary to receive fluids intravenously to combat dehydration. Seek medical attention immediately if you have food poisoning and experience any of the following complications: high fever, bloody stools, dehydration or stools that appear black. Also seek medical attention if the symptoms do not improve after a few days, or if they keep getting worse.
The best defense against food poisoning is prevention. Improper food storage and handling is one of the main culprits behind food poisoning. One way to prevent food contamination is to keep raw foods and prepared foods separated so that cross-contamination does not occur. Wash all kitchen utensils and cutting boards with soap and water after use. All food, especially raw meat, should be cooked to a safe temperature and checked with a food thermometer, not just by sight. The guidelines for safe cooking temperatures vary depending on the type of meat; poultry must be cooked to 165 degrees Fahrenheit, while ground beef and pork should be cooked to 160 degrees Fahrenheit. Fish, pot roasts and steaks are done at 145 degrees Fahrenheit. After purchasing or preparing foods, the foods should be chilled in the refrigerator or frozen in the freezer. If foods are left out at room temperature, bacteria may grow more easily and quickly. Likewise, if you are thawing food from the freezer, it is best to put the thawing food in the refrigerator than to leave it out at room temperature.
Picnic food is a special food safety concern because it is more likely to be left out for long periods of time, often in warm weather. In addition, food prepared for picnics often requires a lot of direct handling, which increases the risk of contamination. To decrease the risk of food poisoning from picnic food, make sure to cool the food properly after preparation by placing it in shallow pans instead of large tubs. Freezing the food is also acceptable. Wash your hands before preparing the food, and keep the cold food cold and the hot food hot before serving it. It is not recommended that you should eat leftover picnic food, as it has been eaten by many different people and it has probably not been kept at the proper temperature to prevent bacterial growth.