What Is Food Poisoning and How Do You Prevent It?
If you have ever experienced food poisoning before, you will know that it is not a very nice experience! This is an illness that is caused when you eat contaminated food. Usually, it is not serious, and most people will recover within a few days. However, there have been cases of food poisoning that have been life-threatening. With that being said, read on to discover everything you need to know about food poisoning and how to prevent it.
How do You Get Food Poisoning?
You can catch food poisoning if you consume something that has been contaminated with germs. This could be the case if the food…
- Is eaten after its ‘use by’ date
- Is handled by someone who has not washed their hands or is ill
- Is left out for too long
- Is not stored correctly, for example, if it has not been chilled or frozen
- Is not reheated or cooked thoroughly
Any type of food can result in food poisoning. The infections that cause food poisoning are usually norovirus, E.coli bacteria, salmonella bacteria, and Campylobacter bacteria. We’ll explain more about these, as well as some others, below:
This is typically spread if tainted water has been used for cleaning food. It can be found on vegetables, ready-to-eat fruits, and seafood.
You get can get this from tainted water, unpasteurized milk, and undercooked or raw meat, especially chicken.
- Clostridium perfringens
This is typically an issue when it comes to foods that have been left out of the fridge for too long. It is common in gravies, stews, and meat.
You can become infected with this bacteria if you touch infecting animals and do not wash your hands afterward, as well as by eating contaminated food, for example, fruits, vegetables, poultry eggs, and beef, and drinking tainted water.
You can get this virus from shellfish, such as clams and lobster, which has come from tainted water, as well as from raw vegetables and fruit. If a food handler has norovirus, they can spread it while preparing meals for customers.
This is one of the less common forms of food poisoning. Nevertheless, it is one of the most worrying, as it has been linked to miscarriages in pregnant women. You can get this form of food poisoning from raw vegetables and fruit, soft cheese, for example, brie, lunch meats, and hot dogs.
- Giardia intestinalis
This is a parasite that is found in food contaminated by stool or in steam water.
You have probably heard of this bacteria before. You can get this from drinking unpasteurized milk and cider, as well as eating undercooked beef, particularly ground beef. It is also important to note that E.coli bacteria can be contracted by failing to wash your hands after touching an animal.
Food Poisoning Symptoms
Some of the most common symptoms associated with food poisoning are as follows:
- A general unwell feeling, for instance, having aches and chills, as well as feeling tired
- A high temperature of 38C or above
- Stomach cramps
- Being sick (vomiting)
- Feeling sick (nausea)
For most people, the symptoms will start within a day or two of eating the contaminated food. However, there are cases whereby symptoms present themselves within a matter of hours, or, on the flip side, there could be delayed symptoms that do not appear for a week or two.
How Can You Prevent Food Poisoning?
Of course, no one wants to experience the symptoms that have been listed above. Therefore, the best thing to do is educate yourself on the ways to prevent food poisoning. Read on to discover some different tips regarding this.
- Respect ‘use-by’ dates
When food looks and smells okay, it can be tempting to eat it even if it is past its use-by date. After all, no one wants to simply throw food in the bin. However, it is wise to respect the ‘use-by’ dates. They have been determined using scientific testing, which determines the speed at which harmful bugs can develop in package food, and so it is certainly worth adhering to them!
- Cool leftovers quickly
If you have cooked food and you are not going to eat it straight away, you should cool it as quickly as you can, i.e. within an hour and a half, and store it in the freezer or fridge. If you have stored leftovers in the fridge, you should consume them within two days.
- Keep your fridge below 5C
One thing that a lot of people do not realize is that the temperature of their fridge can have an impact when it comes to the safety of their food. You should ensure the temperature of your fridge is below 5C, and make sure you check this by using a fridge thermometer. This will ensure that harmful germs do not grow and multiply. You should also try to avoid overfilling your fridge. Air will not be able to circulate properly in your fridge if it is too full, and this will have a negative impact on the overall temperature.
- Cook food thoroughly
You should make sure that kebabs, sausages, burgers, pork, and poultry are cooked until steaming hot. You should never consume food if it is still pink inside. Also, make sure you do not wash raw meat, including turkey and chicken, before cooking. While it is advisable to wash vegetables and such like, washing raw meat will only spread bacteria around your kitchen. A lot of people also mistakenly believe that by freezing raw chicken they eliminate the threat of food poisoning through campylobacter bacteria. Unfortunately, this is not the case. Freezing chicken will lower the presence of Campylobacter bacteria, but it will not completely eradicate it. The safest and most effective way to ensure campylobacter bacteria is killed is to cook chicken thoroughly.
- Store raw meat on the bottom shelf
In addition to the points that have already been mentioned, you should also store raw meat on the bottom shelf, and make sure it is fully covered. This is beneficial because it will make sure that the raw meat does not drip onto other foods or touch other foods.
- Keep raw meat separate
This leads on from the former point. It is vital to keep raw meat away from any food that is ready-to-eat, for example, bread, fruit, and salad. This is because these foods are not going to be cooked prior to you consuming them. Because of this, if any bacteria gets onto these food items from the raw meat, it is not going to be killed before you eat it.
- Use separate chopping boards
You are also advised to have different chopping boards for different foods. You should have one chopping board for preparing raw food, for example, raw fish and meat. You should then have another chopping board for vegetables and such like. This is important because it ensures that you do not contaminate any foods that are ready-to-eat with dangerous bacteria that could be found in raw fish and meat before it has been cooked.
- Wash dishcloths
A further tip is to make sure you wash all tea towels and dishcloths on a regular basis. Make sure tea towels and dishcloths dry thoroughly before you use them again. Damp and dirty clothes provide the ideal environment for spreading germs.
- Wash worktops
Whenever you prepare food, you should make sure that you wash worktops thoroughly both before and afterward. This is especially important if they have been touched by vegetables, fish, raw eggs, and raw meat, including poultry. Antibacterial spray is not required. Simply use hot, soapy water, and this will be more than sufficient.
- Wash your hands
This is a fundamental rule, but it is one that so many people forget about. You need to wash your hands thoroughly using water and soap, and dry them completely, before you handle any food. You should also do the same after you have handled raw food. This not only includes raw fish and meat but also raw vegetables and eggs too. Of course, you should also make sure you wash your hands after you have touched any animals, including pets, blown your nose, gone to the toilet, or touched the bin.
How is Food Poisoning Treated?
When it comes to most cases of food poisoning, there is not a lot your doctor can do for you. Most people simply get better on their own within a day or two. You may need to go to the hospital and get an IV if you experience dehydration through food poisoning because you have lost a lot of fluid. This will ensure your electrolytes and fluids are replaced quickly. Your doctor may prescribe you with antibiotics if you have experienced a severe form of food poisoning that has been caused due to a certain bacteria. Nevertheless, this is unlikely. Medication is not usually provided unless you are pregnant or you have a weak immune system.
Of course, there are a few things that you can do at home so that you can get over the illness as quickly as possible. Your number one priority should be to drink as much fluid as possible. This is important because the vomiting and diarrhea that is experienced can throw off your body’s balance of electrolytes and fluids. Electrolytes are minerals, such as potassium and sodium, which help with everything from controlling how much water is in your body to keep your heartbeat normal. This is why drinking plenty of fluids is imperative. Aside from this, you should do the following…
- Stay away from fatty foods, spicy foods, fizzy drinks or bubbly drinks, alcohol, caffeine, and dairy, which can just make everything worse.
- Get plenty of rest.
- Eat when you feel ready but make sure you start with little amounts of non-fatty and bland foods, for example, crackers, rice, and toast.
- Drink water, an electrolyte solution, or broth, which will replace the minerals that you lose through diarrhea and vomiting.
- Avoid food for the first few hours, though – you need to let your stomach settle down.
When should you call the doctor? If you have any signs of dehydration, you should call your doctor. Some signs of this are as follows:
- A lightheaded feeling, dizziness, and weakness, especially when going from lying down to standing or sitting
- Low blood pressure or rapid heartbeat
- Not peeing much or at all, or concentrated, dark urine
- Extreme thirst or a dry mouth
You should also call your doctor if you see any of the following symptoms:
- Weakness in your muscles
- Tingling in your arms
- Throwing up that won’t stop, i.e. you can’t even keep liquids down
- Fever over 101.5 F
- Extreme cramps or pain in your stomach
- Diarrhea for more than three days
- Blurry vision
- Blood in your stool or vomit
Food poisoning is more dangerous for some people than others. It is best to call a doctor if you are pregnant, have a weak immune system, have a chronic illness, if your child or baby has food poisoning, if you are over 60-years-old.
As you can see, there are a number of different steps that you can take to reduce your chances of experiencing food poisoning. From storing raw meat on the bottom shelf to washing your worktops thoroughly, it does not take a lot of effort to implement these hygiene steps so that you do not have to go through the pain and discomfort of food poisoning.