Food safety: Food poisoning

Fact Checked

Most of us suspect food poisoning every time a family member experiences diarrhea and vomiting. Luckily, food poisoning does not occur frequently since most cases of diarrhea and vomiting in children are triggered by simple viral infections acquired in school or daycare centers.

On the other hand, food poisoning is still common and millions of cases occur every year. Even though most of these cases or relatively mild, those who have food poisoning are hospitalized and some die every year.

Since young children are included in the high risk groups for ending up with serious or even life-threatening cases of food poisoning, it is vital for parents to recognize and prevent them from occurring.

What are the symptoms of food poisoning?

The symptoms tend to vary depending on the trigger but they typically include diarrhea, vomiting, abdominal cramping and nausea.

The symptoms tend to vary depending on the trigger but they typically include diarrhea, vomiting, abdominal cramping and nausea. If an individual has an E. coli infection, other symptoms include blood-streaked diarrhea and complications such as hemolytic uremic syndrome (HUS). In some cases, fever can occur if the individual has salmonellosis (Salmonella infection).

Toxins such as botulism can trigger deadly neurotoxic symptoms including difficulty breathing, double vision as well as difficulty talking. Depending on the cause, the symptoms can occur a few hours or a few days after eating contaminated food.

Treatment for food poisoning

The treatment for food poisoning is focused on preventing dehydration. Take note that antibiotics are not usually required or even helpful in most cases of food poisoning. On the other hand, severe infections such as shigellosis as well as cases caused by parasites, treatment is required.

A doctor should be consulted if a child has food poisoning especially if symptoms such as high fever, blood-streaked diarrhea or indications of dehydration are present.

Prevention of food poisoning

Since food poisoning is often difficult to recognize and the treatment options are limited, it is recommended to observe measures to prevent food poisoning in the first place.

  • Always wash hands thoroughly before preparation and serving of food.
  • Food should be thoroughly cooked especially poultry, meat and eggs.
  • It is recommended to separate utensils and food when preparing, serving and storing meals so that cross-contamination can be prevented. The surfaces and utensils used should be cleaned using soap and hot water.
  • Leftover food should be chilled as soon as possible and within a few hours of cooking or serving. The refrigerator should have a setting not higher than 40 degrees F while the freezer is 0 degrees F or below.
  • Vegetables and fruits should be properly cleaned before serving.
  • If possible, avoid unpasteurized milk and juices.
  • Discard foods that you believe are contaminated or way past the expiration dates even if they are not moldy or do not have any odor.

Important tips to bear in mind

  • Any food can become contaminated and trigger food poisoning but certain foods are high risk including unpasteurized milk, undercooked poultry and meat, deli-prepared salads, raw shellfish and other dairy products.
  • Foods that appear and smell normal might still be contaminated.
  • Honey can also be a source of Clostridium botulinum spores that are responsible for causing botulism. Due to this, honey should not be given to infants below 12 months old.

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