Food Poisoning Facts and Causes


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Food poisoning can be extremely difficult to get through. It affects millions of people every year, many of whom are children. Children under 5 seem to be particularly affected by various pathogens that cause food poisoning. Extra care should be taken when preparing their food.

Food poisoning is simply caused by pathogens in the food we eat, passing into our digestive system and causing a range of symptoms. If proper treatment is provided on time, the condition does not cause serious long term damage. Why don’t all bacteria cause food poisoning? And how can you avoid catching this unpleasant condition?

Symptoms of Food Poisoning

Food poisoning will usually have the same symptoms no matter which pathogen has invaded your body through the food you ate. This is the body’s natural reaction to try and get rid of the bacteria or virus. The symptoms can appear within hours of consuming contaminated food or several days later. Watch for these signs:

  • Stomach cramping and pain
  • Nausea and excessive vomiting
  • Diarrhoea or constipation
  • Tiredness and weakness
  • Loss of appetite
  • Dehydration that leads to dry mouth, dizziness and less urine
  • Fever

In some cases, symptoms may be more intense such as high fever, blood in the stools and an inability to speak clearly. All these will require immediate medical attention.

What causes food poisoning?

Food poisoning can be caused by bacteria, viruses, parasites or toxins found in contaminated or spoiled foods. When a person eats contaminated food, these organisms or chemicals enter the body through the digestive system. TIll now, about 250 types of food poisoning have been categorised, mostly depending on which pathogen has infected you.

In most cases, your symptoms will ease up on their own through self-care measures and/or medication. However, in many cases you may need medical attention and your doctor will require diagnostic tests to find out which pathogen has entered your body. In these cases, food poisoning is most likely to be caused by:

  • Norovirus - Commonly found in undercooked seafood (mainly shellfish)
  • Salmonella - Usually found in chicken and chicken products like raw eggs, salmonella causes many hospitalisations and complications
  • Staph - Usually caused when an infected person transfers the bacteria to food during preparation
  • Trichinella spiralis - This worm parasite mostly infects the body from raw or undercooked meats (mainly pork)

In some cases, food poisoning can get severe and require serious medical attention, usually when either one of the following is the main cause of the infection:

  • E.Coli - This bacteria resides in the intestines of animals but can be found in any food products that have come into contact with an infected animal’s waste matter. This can include vegetables, meats, milk, or other items. E.coli can be harmless or severe depending on the strain of bacteria.
  • Listeria - This extreme bacteria can survive and thrive in cold temperatures (including your fridge) and is usually found in smoked meats and fish, deli meats, various cheeses and even ice cream. Untreated listeria poisoning can lead to complications like the bacteria entering the bloodstream and even death.

How is Food Poisoning treated?

Treatment for food poisoning will usually depend on your symptoms, only the most severe cases will require hospitalisation:

  • Drinking water is one of the most important measures to take to avoid dehydration
  • Resting also helps
  • Simple, non-solid or light foods should be eaten till nausea has passed
  • Medications for nausea or vomiting (this should only be taken under medical supervision)
  • Hospitalisation may involve IV treatments to combat dehydration, antibiotics or anti-toxins

If the food poisoning is not serious, it will usually pass once your body gets rid of the pathogen through vomiting and diarrhoea. Inform your doctor immediately as soon as you suspect that you may have food poisoning.

Food poisoning can quickly turn from a minor issue into a major medical condition if proper care is not taken. Even if you do not need to be hospitalised, you should still consult your doctor on the best steps to take at home to avoid your condition getting worse. Additionally, you need to maintain proper hygiene, especially with food preparation. This included boiling or cooking foods to a certain temperature to kill any pathogens, washing your hands regularly whenever you prepare food and avoiding stale, spoiled or raw, unpasteurized foods.