Food poisoning! Almost every one of us can relate to an incidence of food poisoning. I have had my fair share. However, one incidence remains the most poignant. We had visited my mother upcountry, on our way back, we decided to have lunch in one of the local hotels. That was our undoing because one hour later, we were all complaining of stomach upsets. I was the most affected. It was not a very good experience and lingered on for the next three days. At the end of it all, I felt exhausted, drained, and lacking in energy. To Bridge the health gap, we shall look at food poisoning, common causes, risks factors, home management, when to seek medical care, and prevention.
Common causes of food poisoning
Most cases of food poisoning result from poor food handling. Food gets contaminated during growth, harvesting, storage, or meal preparation. For foods like beef, poultry, fish, or other animal product, contamination can happen during slaughter, poor storage, or meal preparation.
The most common causes of food poisoning are bacteria, viruses, parasites, or toxic chemicals shed by the organisms. Infection can be transmitted from an infected person to another through poor food handling, water contamination, or unsafe surfaces.
Toxic chemicals can contaminate vegetables if not adequately cleaned in freshwater after purchase or harvesting.
Though food poisoning can affect anyone, some factors increase a person’s susceptibility to severe food poisoning;
- Young children and infants. Children have immature immune systems and are more prone to severe food poisoning.
- Pregnant women. Food poisoning poses a serious threat to pregnant women and unborn babies as the bacteria can bypass the placenta barrier to cause premature birth, miscarriage, or stillbirth (the baby is born dead).
- People with chronic diseases. Any long-term illness wreaks havoc on the immune system. Diseases like diabetes, HIV/AIDS, cancers, and some form of treatment like chemotherapy are all immune-suppressing agents increasing risks of severe illness from food poisoning.
- The elderly. As age advances, the immune system weakens. Food poisoning increases the risks of severe and sometimes fatal illnesses.
Symptoms of food poisoning
Food poisoning has classic symptoms that always appear a few minutes to hours after ingestion of contaminated foods. Sometimes, symptoms of food poisoning may take up to three or more days to manifest. Common symptoms include;
- Nausea and vomiting.
- Abdominal pains and muscle cramps.
- Diarrhea, may be bloody at times.
- May experience high temperature or fever.
- Give the digestion system arrest. Do not eat or drink for a few hours after an episode of food poisoning. It allows the digestive system to settle from aggressive movement and heal.
- Once you can eat, take fluids to rehydrate. Choose electrolyte fluids like oral rehydration salts (ORS) to help replace lost water and minerals.
- When you feel hungry, try to eat. Do not eat fatty foods as they can cause nausea.
- Get some rest. Battling food poisoning is very exhausting. You will need to rest and rejuvenate.
- Do not eat or drink highly sugared foods or carbonated drinks, they are likely to upset the stomach further.
- Watch for symptoms of dehydration; increased thirst, dry and cracked lips, pale skin, reduced or no urination.
Most cases of food poisoning are mild and self-limiting. However, some circumstances may require medical attention;
- When vomiting does not reside, and the person progressively cannot retain any food or water.
- The abdominal pains and muscle cramps persist for more than three days.
- Persistent diarrhea for more than three days
- Signs of dehydration.
- Bloody diarrhea or vomit.
- Fever. It can indicate infection of the blood.
- The person gets weak and does not show signs of improvement.
Prevention of food poisoning
- Food hygiene. Before preparing a meal, wash hands with soap and warm water to remove any dirt and microorganisms that can cause food contamination. Wash hands in between when preparing different types of foods.
- Prepare different foods on different chopping boards. Do not chop vegetables on the same board you chopped meat, chicken, or fish.
- Thoroughly cook foods at high temperatures. Cook meat, pork, and poultry in a hot steam until no red part is left.
- Do not wash beef, poultry, and pork before cooking. The process of Washing is likely to spread bacteria on the table surfaces and contaminate with harmful microorganisms. Cooking in high temperatures kills all the bacteria
- Always separate raw foods from cooked food to avoid cross-contamination. Foods such as meat can contaminate ready-to-eat foods like vegetable salads and fruits.
- Refrigerate meat and other animal products in the lowest compartment of the deep freezer to prevent fluids dripping to other foods in the fridge.
- Leftover food should be put in airtight containers and refrigerated within two hours.
- Do not eat food that has been at room temperature for more than two hours. The food has already started decomposing, a fertile ground for bacteria growth.
- Serve food on clean utensils. Remove physical dirt and clean all food storage areas.
- To defrost food, do not leave food at room temperature to thaw. Defrost food inside the fridge, submerge it in cold water or microwave. Cook the food immediately after. When using water to defrost, make sure that the water is cold, change it frequently to prevent it from getting warm.
- In case you doubt the safety of food, do not eat. When food is left for a long time at room temperature, bacteria start to grow, and may contain toxins that are not destroyed even after heating.
- Wash kitchen towels used for wiping utensils and dry them well before use. Wet towels are perfect ground for bacteria growth and are likely to contaminate utensils and food.
- Eat food kept in the fridge within two days. Once such foods is heated, it should be eaten at once and should not be refrigerated or reheated as this increase risks of contamination.
- Always check the expiry date of all foods. Do not eat after expiry date even if the food looks and smells good