You’ve experienced it many times before. Perhaps you ate some bad pizza at lunch but you didn’t know it until the intense stomach cramps suddenly hit you. Or maybe later that evening you develop a fever and you start to vomit. These are the all-too-familiar signs of food poisoning.
Knowing the different causes of food poisoning is perhaps the best way you can protect yourself from this debilitating condition. Let’s take a look at how food becomes contaminated as well as what you can do to avoid getting food poisoning.
Causes of Food Poisoning
We all know that eating or drinking foods that are contaminated with germs (i.e. bacteria or viruses) can cause food poisoning. This usually occurs from unsanitary conditions when food is prepared, stored, or handled.
Here are some examples of how food can become contaminated.
- Cooking with unclean utensils, cutting boards, and other kitchen tools
- Not properly washing your hands
- Using water that is polluted with animal or human feces to grow crops
- Allowing food to come into contact with bacteria and other microorganisms
- Improper storage (e.g. storing food at the wrong temperature or keeping them stored for too long)
Food allergies can also cause some people to have an abnormal reaction after eating certain foods. These allergies can range from mild to server and may cause severe illness or even death.
Tips to Avoid Food Poisoning
Sometimes you can clearly see or smell food to determine whether it’s safe to eat, but other times it’s not so obvious. Here are some tips that will help you steer clear of food poisoning:
- Never eat anything with mold
- Thoroughly cook meats (160˚ F for beef and 165˚F for chicken)
- Wash vegetables and fruits before eating
- Throw out food that is past its expiration date
- Avoid drinking water from streams or untreated wells
- Wash hands before, during, and after handling food
- Clean all kitchenware after use including utensils, pots, pans, and dishes
- Store leftovers in the refrigerator with an air-tight lid
- Defrost foods in water or the refrigerator—don’t thaw them at room temperature
Of course, there’s no way to know whether you’re eating contaminated food when you go to a restaurant or a friend’s house. However, you can reduce your chances of food poisoning by eating out less and offering to prepare food when you eat at someone else’s home.
When to Seek Medical Attention
While most cases are treated at home with rest and plenty of hydration, food poisoning can be severe enough to require medical attention. Be sure to contact an emergency center if you have the following symptoms:
- A fever above 101.5˚ F
- Diarrhea that lasts longer than three days
- Intense vomiting after eating or drinking
- Severe abdominal cramping
- Bloody stool or vomit
- Double vision
- Muscle weakness
Some people who get food poisoning become severely dehydrated, in which case you should consult a doctor right away. Symptoms of dehydration include: extreme thirst, dry mouth, dizziness or lightheadedness, inability to urinate (or urine is dark in color), and sunken eyes.
Botulism, an illness caused by consuming bacterium (Clostridium botulinum) in canned meats or other preserved foods, is an extremely dangerous and life-threatening form of food poisoning. This illness causes toxins to attack nerves that control muscle function. If you suspect someone has botulism, drive the person to an emergency center immediately.