Food poisoning is very unpleasant and potentially fatal. It usually occurs within 1 to 36 hours after eating contaminated food. Sometimes it occurs up to 72 hours later, which is why people often can’t trace the cause of their illness. The time your body takes to react to poisoned food and the length of the attack vary according to the bacteria involved.
Different from Food Allergies
The most common symptoms are abdominal pain, diarrhea, nausea, and vomiting. Some people confuse food poisoning with food allergy, but an allergy normally manifests itself within minutes of eating a culprit food and causes skin reactions, fever, and headache, rather than gastric symptoms that accompany food poisoning.
How to Treat It
Most poisonous bacteria make you sick by infecting the lining of the intestines. Diarrhea and vomiting are your body’s way of trying to get rid of the poison. You shouldn’t take anti-diarrhea preparations. They may immobilize your intestines and stop them from expelling the poison. Painkillers won’t help either.
What you should do is rest and drink plenty of fluids to replace fluids and electrolytes lost through vomiting and diarrhea. Because dehydration is possible, you need to drink a lot of water. If symptoms are severe or still present after three days, you should see a doctor.
Babies and older people are especially vulnerable to food poisoning and dehydration and should always see a doctor immediately.
What Causes It
Meat and poultry, which carry salmonella, produce most traceable cases of food poisoning. Milk, dairy products, and shellfish are also common food culprits. Eggs also carry salmonella; the bacteria can invade the eggshell through microscopic cracks. Raw eggs can carry salmonella. There is a strain of salmonella that affects the hen’s ovaries. She passes the salmonella on before the egg is laid. People should thoroughly cook eggs.
How to Avoid Food Poisoning
By handling food properly, people can avoid many problems. Refrigerated food needs to stay cold. The longer you leave food at room temperature or above, the more time bacteria have to reproduce. Some can double in number every 10 minutes, which means a single bacterium can become a million in just 3 hours and 20 minutes. To stop this, store food below 41 F.
Hot foods need to stay hot. Don’t unplug the crockpot for lunchtime service, and then serve it again for an afternoon snack. If it is necessary to unplug it at lunchtime, plug it in again as soon after the meal as possible. Don’t leave the burgers on the grill when the heat is gone or leave them in the sun. Keep hot foods at 140°F or above.
Staying alert and watching how people handle your food is one of the best defenses against food poisoning. This applies to any place you eat. If you are in a restaurant and you see a food preparer wipe his nose before touching the food, you should alert a manager — and eat somewhere else. The Center for Disease Control advises that kitchen workers infected with Calicivirus, or Norwalk-like virus, “can contaminate a salad or sandwich as they prepare it…” leaving you with acute gastrointestinal illness.
Watch how people handle and prepare food at picnics, buffets, and other gatherings where guests “graze.” When guests are grazing, or consuming small amounts of food throughout a long period, the food tends to sit out at unhealthy temperatures. Choose foods that are on ice or in warming containers, if possible. If everything has warmed (or cooled) to room temperature, avoid eating.
Eat hot foods while they are hot and cold foods while they are cold. Avoid room temperature foods, raw or undercooked eggs, and improperly handled foods. If you contract food poisoning, get plenty of rest and drink fluids. See a doctor if your symptoms don’t go away in three days or you become dehydrated. Babies and elderly people should see a physician right away. Stay alert to be safe and enjoy your parties!