Food Poisoning - Know everything about it.

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The Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that 76 million people become ill from food related diseases each year resulting in 325,000 hospitalisations and 5,000 deaths.

What is food poisoning?

     Food poisoning is when food has been infected with bacteria, parasites, viruses, or toxins from germs that affect humans by contaminated food or water. The most common causing organisms are Staphylococcus or E. coli. 

     The Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that 76 million people become ill from food related diseases each year resulting in 325,000 hospitalizations and 5,000 deaths. 

     Food poisoning or contamination may influence a solitary individual or a gathering of individuals who have taken the equivalent corrupted food. It is regular in a network, particularly everywhere social capacities, eateries, school cafeterias, and so forth. Food poisoning is associated if a base with two individuals is influenced and debased food or water is recognized as the wellspring of the disease. 

     Infants and the aged are especially powerless against food contamination. Those with stifled insusceptibility, those with kidney infection or diabetes or those traveling abroad where they are presented to the germs are additionally defenseless. Pregnant and lactating ladies should be particularly cautious about keeping away from food contamination. The most widely recognized side effect of food contamination is Diarrhea. Loose motions Diarrhea due to food poisoning kills millions worldwide, especially in developing and underdeveloped nations. Travelers to developing countries often encounter food poisoning in the form of Traveler’s diarrhea.

Causes of Food Poisoning.

Causes of food poisoning can be variable. The most common ones are as follows:

Common foods that may carry the germs include raw or undercooked meat, eggs, fish, spoilt meat or poultry, contaminated water, foods that contain mayonnaise, and oysters.  Sometimes food poisoning involves chemical toxins that are produced in certain foods that are improperly stored or undercooked. 

Food poisoning may also occur due to improper preparation, storage or consumption. Such as:
Not washing hands before cooking or eating.
Not washing raw fruits before consumption or vegetables before cooking.
Not cooking the food completely (especially meat, eggs and fish).
Not storing food properly like not refrigerating dairy products and those containing mayonnaise.
Eating food that has surpassed the expiry date.

Symptoms of food poisoning

     Food poisoning generally shows up as pain in the abdomen with cramps, diarrhea, nausea, vomiting, weakness, fever with chills and tremors, headache, etc. The onset of the symptoms and severity depends on the time that the infection takes to multiply and take hold. This time is called the incubation period. Problems generally begin within 2 - 6 hours of eating the tainted food or water but may be longer or shorter depending on the cause of the food poisoning.

Short incubation or less than 16 to 24 hours

    This includes chemical causes like Scombroid poisoning that occurs due to undercooked or poorly stored fish. It occurs due to a large release of histamine chemical from the fish when it is eaten. This may lead to a severe allergic reaction with swelling of the face, itching, shortness of breath, and difficulty swallowing. This may lead to death due to choking. 

Intake of poisonous mushrooms also leads to severe food poisoning due to the chemicals present in them for eg. Amanita mushrooms may lead to failure of the kidneys and even death.

  Intermediate incubation from about 1 to 3 days

   The infections generally affect the large intestine or colon which leads to bloody diarrhea, dysentery with the passage of mucus along with severe abdominal cramps.

Common bacterial causes of such infections are caused due to Campylobacter, Shigella (from contaminated food and water), Salmonella (from poorly cooked food like eggs and poultry), and Vibrio parahemolyticus (due to contaminated saltwater shellfish). They lead to watery diarrhea that may or may not be bloody. E Coli (enterotoxigenic variety) may lead to Traveler’s diarrhea where there may be fever with bloody diarrhea.

Vibrio cholera leads to cholera causing copious watery diarrhea that may lead to severe dehydration.

There are several viral infections that may lead to food poisoning. These include Norwalk, rotavirus, adenovirus infections. These are accompanied by diarrhea, vomiting, fever with chills, etc.

Botulism is caused by the toxin from Clostridium botulinum that may lead to typical food poisoning symptoms along with weakness and even paralysis.

Long incubation 3 to 5 days

These conditions include bacterial infections like those with Hemorrhagic E. coli. This causes inflammation of the colon leading to severe bloody dysentery. This may lead to major life-threatening conditions like kidney failure, especially in elderly individuals. Yersinia enterocolitica infection causes inflamed lymph nodes and may mimic appendicitis with severe abdominal pain.

Very long incubation up to a month

This is usually seen with parasitic infections like Giardiasis (from contaminated water), Amoebiasis, Trichinosis (from undercooked pork or wild game), Cysticercosis (caused due to pork tapeworm infection. It may affect the brain causing seizures). Bacterial infections with long incubation period include Listeria and Brucella infection due to unpasteurized milk, soft cheeses, and poorly stored processed meats and poultry. Viral infections like Hepatitis A may spread due to contaminated food and water. Some Protozoal infections like Toxoplasmosis arise from contamination with infected cat feces. This is particularly dangerous for those with weak immunity and pregnant women. Prion protein may also lead to illness called Bovine Spongiform encephalopathy or mad cow disease. It comes from contaminated beef.

Treatment of food poisoning.

   Food poisoning usually settles by itself in a few days with rest, maintenance of hygiene and plenty of fluids. Sometimes additional therapy may be required for headache, fever and nausea or vomiting.


In most cases, there is a severe loss of salts and electrolytes with vomiting and diarrhea. There is a need to replenish these as well as the fluid. Since drinking water alone does not help and sometimes may be harmful as there is further deprivation of salts, oral Rehydration Salt Solution (ORS) is recommended. ORS is available as dry salt packets. The whole packet needs to be dissolved in one liter filtered, clean drinking water. This solution needs to be sipped continuously for the whole duration of diarrhea. 

Avoidances of caffeinated beverages

Alcohol, sugary drinks, and caffeinated beverages should be avoided. Children and babies who are breast-feeding or bottle-feeding should continue the regular breast milk or formula feeding as much as possible. Meals should be smaller and more frequent for easy digestion. Easily digested foods like toast, crackers, yogurt, rice, or bananas are preferred. 


Antibiotics may be prescribed if the cause of food poisoning is detected. In most cases, this is not required. In the case of parasitic infections or protozoal infestations, specific antibiotics are needed.


Probiotics, such as Lactobacillus acidophilus and Lactobacillus bulgaricus, are preparations with beneficial bacteria. These can help restore the balance of good bacteria in the intestine

Prevention of food poisoning

     Prevention of food poisoning is the key which can be done by the following steps:

Washing hands before and after cooking or eating food and after touching raw meat or food Dishes and utensils need to be adequately cleaned Food should be thoroughly cooked and stored at the right temperatures. For example, beef needs to be cooked to at least 160°F, poultry to at least 180°F, and fish to at least 140°F Foods beyond their expiry dates should not be consumed Water that is cleaned and filtered should be taken While caring for an adult or child with diarrhea, hands should be washed after any contact with possible infected material Canned food should be used carefully to avoid botulism Honey may cause food poisoning in infants below 1 year, it causes botulism in them. Wild mushrooms, raw sea, and shellfish should not be consumed. Pufferfish preparations must be taken only from licensed restaurants to avoid acute often fatal poisoning While traveling consume only clean water, freshly cooked food, or well-packed food. Those with pregnancy and weak immunity need to be extra careful not to consume spoilt or suspicious food to avoid food poisoning.

Tags : #foodpoisoning #foodsafety #foodsafetyday

About the Author

Rabia Mistry Mulla

'For vessels to change their course, they have to be hit by a strong wind first!'
So here I am penning down my thoughts on health and research after 6 years of planning Diets.
Being a Clinical Dietitian & a Diabetes Educator I always had a thing for writing, alas, been hit by the winds towards a new course!
You can write to me at [email protected]

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