What sets food poisoning apart from a food allergy or intolerance? Understanding food poisoning helps us to better deal with and determine symptom severity, as well as when to seek medical attention.
What is Food Poisoning?
Food poisoning occurs when food is contaminated with an infectious agent or toxin. Contamination of food can happen at any point, from its production up until the moment we eat it. It may happen while the food is being transported, prepared, cooked, stored, and even served.
Unlike most food allergies and intolerances, symptoms from food poisoning are not immediate (such as an allergic reaction). It usually takes a couple of hours or days for the infectious agent to get a foothold and start causing symptoms.
- Upset stomach
- Abdominal cramps
Symptoms like diarrhea and vomiting are partly explained by the body’s attempt to expel the infectious agent. Other symptoms, like fever, are characteristic of infection.
Escherichia coli (E-coli): E-coli is a bacteria that comes in many types, most are harmless and can be found in our gut. However, certain types of E-coli can cause diarrhea and are usually acquired through food poisoning. Common sources of this harmful bacteria may include undercooked meats, unwashed produce, unpasteurized products, and contaminated water.
Salmonella: Salmonella is another bacterial disease that can cause diarrhea, abdominal cramps, and a fever. Dehydration is a major concern with salmonella and in some cases medical attention is necessary. It is usually transmitted by raw and undercooked meat, unwashed produce, cross-contamination, poultry, and eggs.
Staphylococcus Aureus: Referred to as Staph, this bacteria can create toxins that cause illness. Staph is usually carried by people and is transmitted to food when they don’t wash their hands. Once in food, Staph bacteria multiply and exude toxins that make us sick, e.g. nausea, vomiting, abdominal cramping, and diarrhea. Staph food poisoning may onset as early as 30 minutes after ingestion.
Lowering Risk of Poisoning
To lower the risk of food poisoning, one should practice food safety. This includes cleaning hands, prep surfaces, and utensils often, wearing gloves when appropriate, using separate utensils for meats and produce, and thoroughly cooking meats. When storing food, it is good practice to label leftovers with the date, and keep refrigerated. When thawing frozen foods, leave in the refrigerator overnight, as faster methods often allow the growth of bacteria.
While many cases of food poisoning may not require medical attention, it is important to be cautious. If symptoms are too severe or last longer than a few days, seek medical attention. If you are interested in learning more about nutrition, check out our other articles!
- “Foodborne Illnesses and Germs | Food Safety | CDC.” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, www.cdc.gov/foodsafety/foodborne-germs.html.
- “Staphylococcal (Staph) Food Poisoning | Food Safety | CDC.” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, www.cdc.gov/foodsafety/diseases/staphylococcal.html.