Food Poisoning – Causes, Symptoms and Treatment

6 Jul

food-poisoningFood poisoning comes from eating foods that contain germs like bad bacteria or toxins, which are poisonous substances. Bacteria are all around us, so mild cases of food poisoning are common. You may have had mild food poisoning — with diarrhea and an upset stomach — but your mom or dad just called it a stomach bug or stomach virus.

Causes of Food Poisoning

Bacteria cause food poisoning either by their sheer numbers or, more commonly, through the toxins they produce. When they are present in food, bacteria can reproduce very quickly as one bacterium becomes two, two becomes four, and so on. Some bacteria produce toxins when they multiply and, in many cases, it is these toxins that cause you to become ill, which can be some time after you ate the contaminated food. In other cases, the number of bacteria alone can cause food poisoning.

Harmful bacteria are the most common causes of Food Poisoning (Food Borne Illness)es. Some bacteria may be present on foods when you purchase them. Raw foods are not sterile. Raw meat and poultry may become contaminated during slaughter. Seafood may become contaminated during harvest or through processing. One in 20,000 eggs may be contaminated with Salmonella inside the egg shell. Produce such as lettuce, tomatoes, sprouts, and melons can become contaminated with Salmonella, Shigella, or Escherichia coli (E. coli) O157:H7. Contamination can occur during growing, harvesting, processing, storing, shipping, or final preparation. Sources of contamination are varied; however, these items are grown in the soil and therefore may become contaminated during growth or through processing and distribution. Contamination may also occur during food preparation in the restaurant or in the person’s kitchen.

Symptoms and Complications of Food Poisoning

Many of the poisons listed here attack the central nervous system and cause symptoms typical of nerve poisons. Eating a red-tide-contaminated shellfish, for example, will produce weakness or paralysis around the mouth in a few minutes, which slowly spreads to the rest of the body. Other neurologic signs of ciguatera poisoning include face pain, headache, itching, and odd sensations of alternating hot and cold.

Risk Factors of Food Poisoning

Improper storage, handling, or preparation of food increases the likelihood of food poisoning. Practically every food contains some bacteria, but most of them are harmless or get destroyed by cooking. It’s when foods are improperly stored, handled, or cooked that they become a threat. The proper temperature is key: refrigeration keeps most bacteria at bay, and cooking food thoroughly at a high heat kills nearly all types of bacteria. However, if foods are not refrigerated or cooked at the right temperature—particularly meat and poultry—they can be toxic. Undercooked beef and poultry are common sources of infection. Raw foods, too, can make you sick; raw eggs sometimes harbor harmful bacteria, making Caesar salads and cookie dough risky.

Treatment of Food Poisoning

If you have diarrhea and are unable to drink fluids (for example, due to nausea or vomiting), you may need medical attention and intravenous fluids. This is especially true for young children.

To prevent dehydration, take frequent sips of a rehydration drink (such as Lytren, Rehydralyte, or Pedialyte). Try to drink a cup of water or rehydration drink for each large, loose stool you have. Sports drinks, soda pop, or fruit juices contain too much sugar and not enough of the important electrolytes that are lost during diarrhea and should only be taken alternately with a rehydration drink. You can make your own rehydration drink.

People with food poisoning should modify their diet. During period of active vomiting and diarrhea they should not try to eat and should drink only clear liquids frequently but in small quantities. Once active symptoms stop, they should eat bland, soft, easy to digest foods for two to three days. One example is the BRAT diet of bananas, rice, applesauce, and toast, all of which are easy to digest. Milk products, spicy food, alcohol and fresh fruit should be avoided for a few days, although babies should continue to breastfeed. These modifications are often all the treatment that is necessary.


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