Understanding Food Poisoning and Food Safety

Food poisoning, or foodborne illness, is a common ailment that occurs when you eat or drink food with harmful germs or bacteria. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), 1 in 6 Americans get sick from food poisoning every year. For most of those people, a bout of food poisoning goes away on its own. But how do you know if it’s food poisoning or something else?

Common symptoms of food poisoning include:

  • Diarrhea
  • Fever
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Stomach pain or cramps
  • Some groups are at higher risk for food poisoning or complications from food poisoning. They include people who:
  • Are 65 or older or younger than 5 years old
  • Are pregnant
  • Have compromised immune systems from health conditions or medications

For these individuals, certain foodborne illnesses can lead to hospitalizations and even death. If you’re in a high-risk group, avoid eating raw or undercooked meat and poultry and unpasteurized dairy products and juices.

When to Seek Care for Food Poisoning

Food poisoning symptoms can begin as soon as 30 minutes after eating food infected by germs or bacteria, but it can take up to two weeks for some types of foodborne illnesses to develop.

Whenever symptoms develop, it’s important to seek medical care from your physician if you have signs of serious food poisoning, including:

  • Bloody diarrhea
  • Dehydration
  • Diarrhea for more than three days
  • Fever more than 102 degrees Fahrenheit
  • Frequent vomiting

If you’re unsure of the cause of your symptoms, visit an urgent care center. River’s Edge Hospital’s Urgent Care Department offers easy access and weekend and evening hours so medical providers can help determine the potential cause of symptoms and provide relief from dehydration, vomiting and diarrhea.

Focus on Hydration for Food Poisoning

Most cases of food poisoning will go away on their own. However, as you recover, it’s vital to replace lost fluids and electrolytes to prevent dehydration, which can develop if you experience significant diarrhea and vomiting.

Consume drinks and soups including:

  • Broths
  • Fruit juices diluted with water
  • Oral rehydration solutions, such as Pedialyte
  • Sports drinks
  • Water

Oral rehydration solutions contain sugar and electrolytes and are used to treat dehydration. These drinks may be appropriate for children, older adults and people with weakened immune systems to prevent dehydration. Contact your healthcare provider or visit an urgent care center if you experience symptoms of dehydration from severe diarrhea or vomiting.

Take Steps to Prep Food Safely

Food poisoning can come from contaminated food and from errors in food preparation, handling and storage.

You can prevent food poisoning with the CDC’s four steps for food safety:

  • Clean. Eliminate germs by washing your hands and surfaces before starting to prep meals and after handling raw or uncooked meats, poultry, and eggs. Rinse all fruits and vegetables under cool running water.
  • Avoid cross-contamination between raw meats, poultry and seafood and ready-to-eat foods. Use separate cutting boards for raw foods and prepared foods or produce.
  • Use a food thermometer to ensure foods are cooked to the right internal temperature. View a detailed list of safe minimum internal temperatures at FoodSafety.gov.
  • Harmful bacteria can grow in cold foods not stored below 40 degrees and hot foods not cooked to 140 degrees Fahrenheit. This includes deli meats and cooked foods. Refrigerate or freeze perishable foods within two hours.

Need relief from symptoms of food poisoning or dehydration? Visit River’s Edge Urgent Care Department, a walk-in clinic that offers care for non-emergent illnesses. The clinic is open Monday through Friday, noon–7:30 p.m. and weekends 8 a.m.–4 p.m.

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