Foodborne illness, or food poisoning, is illness due to contaminated or toxic food. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that 48 million people suffer from foodborne illness each year in the United States. Approximately 128,000 people are hospitalized, and 3,000 people die from contaminated food. A variety of different contaminants cause foodborne illness. Symptoms of food poisoning also vary. The following causes and symptoms of foodborne illness may help you figure out whether you may be suffering from food poisoning or not, and how to avoid taking risks with your food.
Bacteria is one of the leading causes of food poisoning. If you’ve ever heard of salmonella, listeria, or E. coli, then you know the potential dangers that bacterial foodborne illness could pose. According to the CDC, one million people are infected each year with Salmonella which results in 19,000 hospitalizations and 380 deaths. Bacterial food poisoning is caused by a person consuming the following problematic foods: animal products which are not fresh or have not been fully cooked; vegetables which have not been properly washed and are contaminated by soil that contains fecal matter; and dairy products which have not been pasteurized, like soft cheese.
Food poisoning can be caused by viruses as well, such as the norovirus—which is the leading cause of foodborne illness in the United States. Norovirus accounts for 58% of foodborne illnesses each year. According to the CDC, An estimated 19 million people are infected with the norovirus each year—up to 71,000 people are hospitalized, and 800 people die. Norovirus is a highly contagious virus that passes directly from person to person, or by contaminated food. Symptoms include vomiting and diarrhea and normally last 12-48 hours. Other viruses that can transmit through food include sapovirus, rotavirus, astrovirus, and Hepatitis A.
Foodborne illness caused by parasites are less common than foodborne illness from bacteria or virus. A person gets food poisoning from a parasite is by eating food contaminated by fecal matter from an animal like a cat or dog, or by eating undercooked meat. One such parasite, Toxoplasma gondii, causes, an infection called toxoplasmosis. This particular parasite is found in cat feces and undercooked meat. This parasite can be completely asymptomatic; however, it is very dangerous for pregnant women and people with compromised immune systems. Toxoplasmosis can cause serious congenital disabilities, so pregnant women should avoid contact with cat feces.
Avoid certain foods, like poisonous mushrooms. Other foods can cause food poisoning when they are not prepared correctly. Kidney and lima beans have toxins can be removed by soaking and cooking the beans for a period. When they are not soaked and cooked for long enough, the beans can still contain lectins or linamarin which can turn into hydrogen cyanide and cause food poisoning.
One of the common signs of food poisoning is nausea or queasiness. This symptom could arise from any foodborne illness, be it bacterial, viral, parasitic, or other. Nausea is often a symptom that occurs before vomiting, but vomiting does not always accompany it. Consider drinking some ginger tea to treat the queasiness.
When you catch a stomach bug, a common reaction is vomiting due to an irritated digestive tract. Throwing up is one way in which our body protects itself. When we eat something bad, something with a bacteria or virus our bodies try to get rid of it in any way possible. If you have been vomiting for any reason, make sure to drink a lot of water to replace the fluids and electrolytes lost.
Diarrhea is another way in which your body attempts to get rid of contaminants. Often, diarrhea is accompanied by stomach cramps and pains. Diarrhea itself is normally not dangerous; however, it can lead to dehydration because of frequent loss of fluids. So, people with diarrhea must drink lots of water or juice to replace lost fluids and electrolytes.
Your body fights off infection in many ways. If you get food poisoning accompanied by sweating, vomiting, or diarrhea, you’re in danger of becoming dehydrated. Serious cases of dehydration can land you in the hospital with intravenous fluids—so make sure you’re drinking enough fluids to replace those lost.
Fever is an indication that your body is working hard trying to fight off an infection, flu, foodborne illness, and many different conditions which cause your immune system to kick into high gear. Keeping cool with compresses, cool showers, and cold drinks can help to keep your temperature at safe levels. If you have a very high fever for more than 48 hours, contact your doctor.
Loss of appetite
This symptom should not come as a surprise to anyone who’s experienced nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, and other foodborne-illness-related symptoms. It’s natural not to want to eat anything after ingesting contaminated food. However, it’s still important to keep drinking fluids. If drinking causes you to vomit and have diarrhea, it’s a sign that your body still has more contaminants to get rid of. Keep drinking!
Foodborne illness can be an incredibly uncomfortable and unpleasant experience, but it usually resolves within one or two days. People with compromised immune systems or pregnant women should consult a doctor immediately upon experiencing any of these symptoms, as they could escalate more quickly to a dangerous infection or severe dehydration.