Food Poisoning

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Overview of Food Poisoning

Food poisoning is caused by the consumption of food or water contaminated with bacteria and/or their toxins, parasites, viruses or chemicals (particularly pesticides on fruits and vegetables). Infectious organisms can contaminate food at any point during its processing or production. Young adults often eat raw or undercooked foods of animal origin that put them at increased risk for food borne diseases.1 Food poisoning can also occur at home when food is inappropriately handled, improperly cooked or inadequately stored at the wrong temperature.

The symptoms of acute food poisoning caused by bacterial intestinal infection are usually mild-to-moderate and spontaneous remission occurs but in some cases, the disease can cause rapid deterioration of a patient’s condition.2 Typical symptoms include nausea, vomiting, abdominal cramps and diarrhea that develops suddenly (within 30 min to 48 h) of consuming a contaminated food or drink. Further, fever, bloody stools, dehydration and nervous system damage may follow. The factors which decide whether a person develops food poisoning after eating contaminated food depends on the contaminant in the food, the amount of exposure to it, the person’s age and one’s health condition.

Populations, which are most seriously affected by food poisoning are infants, the elderly and those with weakened immune system or with chronic diseases. Frequent travelers are at a higher risk for getting food poisoning because of poor sanitation and contaminated water. Food poisoning can be prevented by following safe steps in food handling, cooking and storage and by practicing good hygiene.

First Aid of Food Poisoning

The symptoms of food poisoning often improve on its own within 48 h. The following self-care can be tried at home:

  • Stop eating for a few hours.
  • Drink plenty of fluids to prevent dehydration. These include not only plain water but also clear soda such as 7UP or Sprite, clear soups or non-caffeinated drinks.
  • Gradually begin to eat bland, easy-to-digest foods such as soda crackers, low-sugar cereals or the BRAT diet (bananas, rice, applesauce and toast).
  • Get adequate rest.
  • Despite this, if the symptoms worsen or if you are getting more dehydrated, seek immediate emergency medical help.

Do’s and Don’ts

  • Avoid eating solid food if you have nausea or vomiting.
  • Children and adults should avoid milk and milk-based products but nursing infants should be continued on breastfeeding.
  • Avoid caffeine, sugary drinks, alcohol, nicotine and fatty foods.
  • Avoid using antidiarrheal medications without doctor’s prescription.


  • Wash your hands frequently and always before touching food.
  • Wash fresh fruits and vegetables with plenty of water.
  • Clean properly surfaces such as countertops, cutting boards and utensils.
  • Never leave food out more than 2 h at room temperature, particularly during the summer months.
  • Defrost food safely. Do not thaw at room temperature.
  • Cook meat and poultry immediately after microwave thawing.
  • Keep raw foods separate from ready-to-eat foods.


1.Byrd-Bredbenner C, Abbot JM, Wheatley V, Schaffner D, Bruhn C, Blalock L., et al. Risky eating behaviors of young adults-implications for food safety education.  J Am Diet Assoc. 2008; 108(3): 549–552.

2.Thielman NM, Guerrant RL. Clinical practice. Acute infectious diarrhea. N Engl J Med. 2004; 350: 38–47.

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Written by: healthplus24 team
Date last updated: May 02, 2015

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