Food poisoning is a common condition, affecting millions of people worldwide. In the UK alone, it is estimated there are around 850,000 cases each year, according to the NHS. It is caused by food which has been contaminated by bacteria, viruses, parasites or chemicals. Severity can vary depending on the type of bacteria but the symptoms are usually the same and include nausea, vomiting and diarrhoea.
What causes it?
Food poisoning is caused by germs entering the body through food. This can happen when food isn’t cooked properly and harmful micro-organisms are not killed, or when it is contaminated through poor hygiene – by handling food with dirty hands or not preparing it on a clean surface, for instance. Not storing food at the correct temperature and eating it once it is past its sell by date can also cause infection.
Common types of bacteria which cause food poisoning include salmonella, campylobacter, listeria and E. coli. Viruses, parasites and toxins can also bring on the illness.
What are the symptoms?
The symptoms of food poisoning can take between one hour and 90 days to develop, according to the NHS. This is called the incubation period. Most commonly, patients suffer from nausea, vomiting and diarrhoea, but symptoms can also include:
- Stomach pain and cramps
- A fever
- Muscle ache
- Loss of appetite
How is it treated?
Food poisoning usually clears up within a week and can be treated without the help of a doctor. It is important to keep the body from dehydrating by drinking plenty of clean water and using rehydration powders, BBC Health advises. For those working with food on a daily basis, it is important to stay at home while they recover to avoid infecting others.
However, if symptoms persist or get worse, it is advisable to consult a health professional as soon as possible. Contact your doctor if you experience any of the following:
- Blood in the vomit or stool
- Vomiting or diarrhoea lasting for longer than two days
- Confusion or double vision
- Severe dehydration, such as a dry mouth or difficulty urinating
How can it be prevented?
Food poisoning can usually be avoided by following a few simple guidelines:
- Always wash your hands before handling food
- Make sure your kitchen surfaces are clean
- Ensure that pets do not come into contact with food or kitchen work tops
- Always refrigerate dairy and meat products
- Avoid eating food which is past its sell by date
- Make sure meat is properly defrosted before cooking
- Do not re-freeze previously defrosted food
- Make sure meat is cooked thoroughly
- Wash fruit and vegetables before eating
- Keep raw food covered up in the fridge
- Ensure reheated food is served piping hot
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