Every year, hundreds of thousands of people are affected by food poisoning. Most of the victims suffer horrible bouts of vomiting, diarrhea, and other symptoms, but slowly chart their paths of recovery. A few suffer long-term health problems as an after-effect and some victims die when infections are severe.
Food poisoning commonly occurs when we consume foods that are past their expiry date or have been infected by bacteria, viruses, or other poisonous organisms. Foods contaminated with chemicals or toxins also cause severe cases of food poisoning.
Most cases of infection are self-diagnosable. Often, doctors confirm cases of food poisoning but victims are not able to pinpoint what food item could possibly have caused the health issues.
Contaminated food is especially dangerous for the very young and the very old. Detecting the symptoms and identifying the possible causes in time could help prevent health complications and save lives. Here are a few things you should know about food poisoning or gastroenteritis.
1. Types of Food Poisoning
Food poisoning happens due to a few common reasons. You either picked up the bug through something you ate, you came into contact with an infected person, or you didn't wash your hands well enough after visiting the bathroom.
Common disease-causing bacteria are Salmonella, E.coli, Campylobacter, and viruses including norovirus. Bacterial food poisoning caused by salmonella is most common in the U.S., with an estimated 1,000,000 cases reported annually. Campylobacter and C.botulinum are lesser known and potentially fatal bacteria that are found in contaminated food.
Norovirus is the culprit in millions of cases of food poisoning. Rotavirus, Astrovirus, Sapovirus and the deadly Hepatitis A virus also cause food poisoning but are less common.
Parasites that spread through food are very dangerous and can go undetected for years. Toxoplasma is a parasite commonly found in cat litter, and infections can be fatal for those with weak immune systems and for pregnant women.
Natural and manmade toxins are sometimes causes of food poisoning, and the infections are usually very severe. If you enjoy foraging for wild berries and mushrooms, it is necessary that you be aware of the safe varieties and the poisonous ones. Shellfish also can prove to be source of food poisoning and are best avoided eaten raw, especially if you have a weakened immune system or are pregnant.
2. Symptoms of Food Poisoning
It is not hard to identify symptoms of food poisoning.
Vomiting, diarrhea, abdominal pain, dizziness, chills, fever, weakness, and headache are common symptoms of food poisoning. Usually you feel under the weather for a couple of days, and will be back to normal soon.
There are no specific medicines to speed up recovery but your doctor will prescribe oral rehydration solutions to help you overcome weakness. You will, under normal circumstances, recover at home and will not require a visit to the hospital.
But, there are certain circumstances under which you need to seek professional help. Severe bouts of vomiting and diarrhea, which make it impossible to keep fluid down, require immediate medical attention. Extreme dehydration and symptoms that persist beyond a few days all require treatment. If you are very young or very old; are pregnant; or have low immunity due to medications, cancer, or conditions like HIV, it is necessary that you visit a doctor as soon as possible.
3. How is Food Contaminated?
There are many ways in which the food we eat gets contaminated.
Undercooked meat is one of the most common causes of food poisoning. Uncooked seafood and raw deli meats are also easily contaminated. Cooked food that is left out at room temperature grows bacteria and, if consumed, can cause vomiting and diarrhea.
Some foods need to be stored below 5°C and if the instructions are not properly followed, food gets contaminated. Frozen cooked food should be properly reheated before being consumed.
Most canned and packaged foods have 'use by' date beyond which it is not advisable to consume the food items. When large quantities of food are stored in the same place or if different types of food are handled in the kitchen without any hygiene measures, then cross-contamination happens. It is important that you wash surfaces and dishes where raw meat or fish has come into contact to avoid bacteria passing onto other foods.
4. What to Do in Case of Severe Infections?
In some instances, infections result in grave health problems and prolonged treatment. Some victims even consider filing food poisoning lawsuits to be remediated for their losses in terms of time, money, and physical and mental suffering.
If you speak to an attorney, he or she will most likely advise you to avoid suing if you recovered within a few days and do not have any long-lasting effects.
If you have incurred exorbitant medical expenses and have endured serious complications from food poisoning, you have valid reasons to seek legal recourse. You should be able to pinpoint the particular food item that caused the illness. If you have leftovers, get them tested to prove the presence of contaminants. If you can prove you were affected by the same pathogen, then proving your claim in court will not be very difficult.
Food poisoning lawsuits become easier to prove when a government agency links the particular food you ate or the place where you ate to an outbreak of food poisoning.
Food poisoning can be avoided at home if you are careful enough. But, if you enjoy eating outside of home, then there is always the risk of food contamination and ensuing health problems. Learn to recognize the causes and symptoms, and seek medical help if you feel things are getting out of hand. More often than not, you will be fit and fine in a few days with nothing to worry about.
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