At some time or another all of us will have a bout of food poisoning. For most of us we will suffer for a few days at home without recourse to treatment and then we will recover completely, however sometimes food poisoning can be extremely debilitating and in some cases it can be fatal.
What Is Food Poisoning?
Food poisoning is an illness that leads to sickness and diarrhoea. It is caused by eating contaminated food - food that has been contaminated by bacteria such as salmonella or Escherichia coli (E. coli), or contaminated by a virus, such as the norovirus.
The Symptoms of Food Poisoning
You will see the symptoms of food poisoning within 1 - 3 days of eating contaminated food, although you can have the onset of symptoms as quickly as a few hours depending on the bacteria involved. Such symptoms include:
Other symptoms to watch out for:
What Are the Causes of Food Poisoning?
Food can become contaminated with bacteria at any stage of its production, processing or cooking. Food that has not been cooked properly or stored properly is particularly at risk, as is food that has been handled by someone who is ill with diarrhoea and vomiting. Another source of contamination is when food is cross contaminated by another food. Cross contamination can occur when bacteria are spread between food, surfaces and equipment. If you prepare raw meat on a surface you then use to chop salad or fruit, you may cross contaminate. It's important that surfaces are very clean before use.
Cross-contamination may also occur if you store your raw meat above ready-to-eat meals or dairy in your fridge. Juices can drip from the meat onto other foods.
Common Types of Bacteria Include:
Campylobacter which is found in raw and undercooked meat but also in unpasteurised milk and untreated water.
Salmonella bacteria are found in raw meat and poultry and untreated water and can be passed via dairy products, including eggs and unpasteurised milk.
Listeria bacteria can be found in chilled, ready-to-eat foods including: pre-packed sandwiches, pâté, soft cheeses and smoked salmon. The incubation period for food poisoning that has been caused by listeria can vary from two days to three months, so make sure you eat these foods within their 'use by' dates.
Escherichia coli (E. coli) are found in the digestive systems of many animals, including humans. E. coli food poisoning occurs after eating undercooked beef – especially mince and burgers etc.
Norovirus is the most common gastrointestinal illness and is easily spread from person to person, usually via contaminated food or water. However, raw shellfish, particularly oysters, are also a source of viral contamination.
When to Seek Medical Advice for Your Food Poisoning
In most instances you will not need to seek medical treatment for food poisoning. However, you should seek medical advice for the following signs or symptoms:
Generally if you are suffering with food poisoning you should rest and drink plenty of fluids until you feel better. Initially you should eat foods that are easily digested such as toast, clear soup, bananas and rice. Avoid cigarettes, alcohol and spicy foods.
If you are dehydrated your chemist can recommend oral rehydration salts that will help to replace salt, glucose and other important minerals.
The Best Ways to Prevent Food Poisoning
Image Source: hootie2710 / 123RF Stock Photo
Updated: April 24, 2018 CET
Updated: May 28, 2020 CET