According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, food poisoning occurs about 76 million times per year and results in about 5,000 deaths.
Food poisoning is quite common and typically displays similar symptoms to the flu. In fact, often times the two are indistinguishable. Symptoms of food poisoning include nausea, vomiting, stomach cramps, diarrhea and even fever and chills can occur. These symptoms typically present themselves within 48 hours of consuming the contaminated food or beverage.
Most people don’t realize that there are different types of food poisoning. A total of 250 different diseases are spread by food poisoning and they can include viruses, parasites, bacteria and reactions to pesticides on the food that is consumed. Most of these instances occur when improper preparation takes place. When eating away from home it’s hard to avoid foods that were not properly handled or prepared, but when at home make sure to properly thaw and cook raw items, keep surfaces and hands clean and disinfected if raw ingredients have touched them, do not use product that is past its expiration date and don’t leave food at room temperature for very long.
The most common cause of food poisoning is from viruses. Noroviruses are the most common form of viral food poisoning. They are passed through water, vegetables contaminated by feces and shellfish. They can also be passed from person to person. Bacterial infections can include Salmonella (which can actually come back after a few weeks of feeling fine) and Staphylococcus (often found in pies, cakes, and salads that contain some form of dairy). Staphylococcus typically grows in food that has been sitting outside of refrigeration for too long. Another common form of bacterial food poisoning is E coli. E coli is a dangerous infection and can lead to death because of its common symptom of severe diarrhea. Undercooked meats, unpasteurized milk or juices as well as contaminated water can all pass E coli along.
While most cases of food poisoning run their course in about 24-48 hours, it’s important to seek medical attention if it’s impossible to keep fluids down, high fever occurs, the person has a pre-existing medical condition that puts them at a greater risk than normal or if any neurological symptoms occur such as slurred speech, double vision or trouble with muscle control. If symptoms seem normal and start to lessen within 24 hours, it’s important to maintain proper fluid intake, rest and — when feeling up to it — begin to consume simple, easy-to-digest meals. Medications are available over the counter that may lessen symptoms but it’s typically best to just let food poisoning run its course. For example, taking antibiotics can actually worsen food poisoning to a great degree. If severe symptoms don’t begin to clear up within 48 hours (Irregular bowel movements or lack of appetite can persist for a few more days) contact your primary care physician.