Food poisoning is a disease caused by food contaminated with organisms, such as bacteria, viruses, and parasites like salmonella and Escherichia coli. These infectious organisms can contaminate food even if it is properly cooked.
Food poisoning symptoms may begin within a few hours after eating contaminated food. Symptoms may vary, but nausea, vomiting and diarrhea are the most common cause of food poisoning.
Food poisoning can resolve without treatment, but some people need to go to the hospital for further treatment.
Causes of Food Poisoning
Cross-contamination refers to the transfer of harmful organisms from one surface to another, which often results in food poisoning. This can happen at any time, including during growing, harvesting, processing, storage, shipping, and other stages of production.
Contamination is particularly troublesome for raw and ready-to-eat foods, such as salads and other uncooked products. Uncooked foods have the potential to contain harmful organisms that are not destroyed prior to consumption, which puts them at risk of causing food poisoning.
Bacteria, viruses and parasites can also cause food poisoning. You may start to feel signs and symptoms.
When to See A Doctor for Food Poisoning
Your internist will diagnose food poisoning based on a detailed medical history, such as how long you have been sick, what symptoms have appeared, and what foods you consume. A physical exam is also required to look for signs of dehydration.
Based on your symptoms and medical history, your doctor may order diagnostic tests, such as blood tests and stool culture tests to identify the cause and provide an accurate diagnosis.
In stool culture tests, your doctor will send a sample of your stool to the laboratory to identify any organisms causing infection. If an organism is found, your doctor may likely notify your local health department to find out if your food poisoning is related to a certain outbreak.
In a few cases, the cause of food poisoning is not identified.
Symptoms of Food Poisoning
Symptoms of food poisoning may vary depending on the source of the contaminated food. Most people who have food poisoning have one or more of the following symptoms:
- Muscle pain.
- Belly pain and cramps.
- Loss of appetite.
- Lack of energy and tiredness.
Signs and symptoms may start to appear within hours of eating contaminated food. The symptoms may also appear after a few days or even weeks later. Illnesses caused by food poisoning usually last from a few hours to several days.
Treatments for Food Poisoning
Treatments for food poisoning depends on the source of the contamination and the severity of your symptoms. In general, food poisoning can resolve within a few days without treatment, although certain types of food poisoning may last longer.
Your internist may recommend the following treatments for food poisoning:
- Replace lost fluids. Your doctor will administer fluids and electrolytes containing sodium, potassium and calcium to maintain the balance of fluids in your body. If you have persistent diarrhea and vomiting, you will lose fluids on a prolonged basis. Some children and adults with persistent diarrhea or vomiting may require hospitalization. The goal is for them to receive salt and fluids through a vein (IV) to prevent or treat dehydration.
- Antibiotics. Your doctor may prescribe antibiotics if you have food poisoning due to certain bacteria and it is followed by severe symptoms. Food poisoning caused by listeria (bacterial infection) requires to be treated with antibiotics. During pregnancy, proper antibiotic treatment may help prevent infections that risk affecting the fetus development. Antibiotics will not help food poisoning caused by viruses.
Adults with diarrhea that is not bloody and who have no fever may treat food poisoning by taking the medication loperamide (Imodium A-D) or bismuth subsalicylate (Pepto-Bismol). It is best to talk to your doctor about the food poisoning treatment options
Treatment Cost for Food Poisoning
Treatment cost for food-poisoning may vary depending on the tests and treatment options recommended by your doctor.
Calculate the estimated treatment cost for food poisoning at home or abroad using Smarter Health’s free service.
Prevention of Food Poisoning
You can try to take the following ways to prevent food poisoning:
- Refrigerate or freeze perishable foods promptly.
- Wash cooking utensils and cutlery using soap and clean water.
- Wash your hands regularly with soap and clean water before and after preparing or eating food.
- Defrost food to a safe temperature. If you put frozen food in the microwave, make sure it is cooked immediately.
- Cook food at the correct temperature to kill the harmful organisms in most foods. Use a food thermometer to see if food has been cooked to the right temperature.
- Separate raw foods from ready-to-eat meals. When shopping, preparing food or storing food, it’s best to keep raw meat, poultry, fish and shellfish separate from other foods to prevent cross-contamination.
- Discard your food if you are unsure if the food is still safe to consume foods that have been left at room temperature for too long may contain bacteria or toxins that cannot be destroyed by cooking. Although it looks and smells good, it may not be safe for consumption.
Food poisoning can be fatal and life threatening to young children, the elderly, pregnant women and their baby, and people with immune system disorders.
Home Remedies for Food Poisoning
People with food poisoning can usually be treated at home and resolved in a few days. When you get food poisoning, it is important to stay hydrated. This is because you need replacement lost fluids after vomiting and diarrhea. Below are what can do to provide home care treatments for food poisoning:
- Avoid drinking alcohol, caffeine, and soft drinks.
- Avoid certain foods and substances until you feel better.
- Avoid spicy, fatty, seasoned foods and dairy products.
- Get plenty of rest to avoid tiredness
- Ease back into eating. You can begin eating easily digested foods such as toasts, crackers, or a banana.
- Probiotics. Your doctor may recommend probiotics. Ask your doctor before trying it.
- Try sucking on ice cubes or drinking small sips of water. You can also drink clear sodas, clear broths, or non-caffeinated sports drinks. You may also try oral rehydration solutions if you have symptoms of severe dehydration or diarrhea. This is done so that your body’s fluid needs are met and keep the urine color clear.
Tell your doctor right away if your food poisoning symptoms worsen or do not improve within a few days.
Smarter Health provides teleconsultation services with internists at home and abroad. Tele-consultation is the best option to get access to health amidst the COVID-19 pandemic.