You've probably been there. A delicious meal may have a rogue ingredient. Or something you ate, which tasted a little, er, fishy, is causing you to be violently ill. Of course, sometimes you just feel rotten and you’re not sure whether it’s what you ate or just a nasty bug.
It’s not just food that gives you food poisoning
There are several ways in which the food you eat or what you drink can make you ill. "The most common way food can make you sick is due to harmful bugs getting into food," Dr Ronald McCoy, spokesperson for the Royal Australian College of General Practitioners, tells SBS. "If you get food poisoning, you'll most likely have poisoning from bacteria (salmonella, e.coli, listeria); viral sources (norovirus, rotavirus, hepatitis A); or intoxication, caused from the toxins produced by bugs." (Find an good summary sheet on the causes of food poisoning, high-risk foods and symptoms here)
Surprisingly, some of these types of food poisoning may not even involve food, but instead, can be transferred from person to person (who may or may not have symptoms), or via contaminated surfaces.
So what do you need to watch out for? The Food Safety Council says causes often include:
• cross contamination (where bacteria is spread through food, surfaces, utensils and equipment – see that link about washing meat, above)
• poor hygiene (not washing hands before preparing or handling food)
• eating food after its 'use-by' date.
• undercooked food, or food stored incorrectly
So is that dodgy tum really food poisoning?
The effects you may suffer from food poisoning range from mild to very severe. "Usually, you'll feel some symptoms within a few hours, or as long as a few days, and it may take a couple of days to feel better," says Dr McCoy. Symptoms often include one or more of: nausea; stomach cramps; diarrhoea; vomiting; fever; and headaches. The symptoms may vary depending on which bacteria or virus is causing it - more about that here.
And if you’re thinking about what you ate, remember that it’s rarely the food you ate most recently – food poisoning symptoms can take one to three days to develop.
How to treat food poisoning
If you've eaten something that has caused you to be ill, here’s what to do so you don't suffer for longer than necessary.
If you spot any blood or mucus in your vomit or diarrhoea, call or visit your GP as soon as possible. Those in high-risk groups, such as the elderly, those who are immune-compromised, small children and pregnant women, should also seek medical attention quickly.
For everyone else, symptoms will most likely resolve themselves.
"Following a bout of food poisoning, the top priority is rehydrating, to replace those lost fluids," Lisa Renn, Accredited Practising Dietitian and a spokesperson for the Dietitians Association of Australia, tells SBS.
"Drink plenty of liquids, including soups or broths, to replenish lost fluids and electrolytes. Keep foods plain, low-fat, and low-fibre to avoid hurting your already sensitive stomach. Think plain crackers, toast, bananas, rice, plain pasta or tomatoes. It's also best to avoid dairy foods like milk, cheese, and yoghurt, as their lactose content can trigger more diarrhoea."
If, after three days you still feel ill, it's important to seek medical attention. This is particularly important if you can't keep fluids down, as there is a risk of dehydration, particularly in infants and the elderly.
Food Safety Week runs November 6-12.
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