Food poisoningAuthor(s): Ibukun Edu
November 30, 2013
Lots of people suffer from food poisoning everyday but many don’t know what it is until it has passed. There are different levels of food poisoning; people experiencing the milder stages of it might not be aware because it passes once the body has expelled the poison. Some people are not so lucky.
Food poisoning is caused by eating food contaminated with viruses, bacteria or parasites.
Food contamination might happen during production or processing and can be as a result of poor storage and cooking.
Symptoms of food poisoning
Food poisoning symptoms vary depending on the intensity of the poisoning and can occur hours after eating the contaminated item. Some cases of food poisoning are minor but in other instances, the symptoms become very bad and the person may require medical care.
The symptoms of food poisoning include:
Easy remedies such as resting and waiting for the body to expel the contaminated food work in mild cases of food poisoning, however, if symptoms continue to deteriorate, you need to get the person to a hospital.
You know that food poisoning has entered the critical stage when the person:
can’t stop vomiting
can’t keep liquids down
passes bloody stool
continues getting weaker
becomes dizzy and has trouble speaking
Causes of food poisoning
Food can become contaminated at any stage during production and preparation for final consumption. The most common factor of food contamination is cross-contamination; cross-contamination is “the transfer of harmful organisms from one surface to another”.
Foods that are more likely to be contaminated are foods that don’t require cooking before consumption, e.g. salads.
The more aggressive stages of food poisoning may cause serious health issues for certain people. In pregnant women, severe food poisoning complications for the unborn baby. Earlier in pregnancy, the infection caused by poisoning could lead to a miscarriage. In more advanced pregnancies, the infection may cause still birth or premature birth; sometimes, the infection may cause further complications for the child after birth. This particular infection is known as the listeria infection and can stunt the child’s development later in life.
Treatment for food poisoning varies and is determined by the source and severity of the poisoning. While some people might not require any treatment and will be fine after a few days, others might experience symptoms for up to, and over, a week.
The steps taken to treat food poisoning include:
Replacement of fluids. Due to dehydration from vomiting, the sufferer will need to replace lost fluids. In trying to expel the poison, the body loses vital minerals such as sodium, calcium and potassium and these need to be replaced. In severe cases, fluids are intravenously given to provide the body with the needed nutrients and water; this is faster and more effective than oral solutions.
Antibiotics prescribed by a doctor. Depending on the type and severity of food poisoning, doctors may prescribe antibiotics. During pregnancy, for example, the administration of antibiotics may keep the infection from getting to the baby.
The belief some Nigerians have that things like food poisoning do not affect Africans is dangerous and usually leads people to make costly mistakes. People eat expired food without caring because they believe there’ll be no effects; some people eat fruits and vegetables without washing them. Such habits are dangerous and even if they don’t cause any immediate problems, might have harmful effects on the person eventually.
The following are measures you can take to prevent food poisoning:
Separating food items after purchase to prevent cross-contamination. When raw foods and foods that come ready to eat are purchased they should be stored separately. Examples of raw foods include chicken, meat and sea food.
After handling items, it is important to wash your hands often to get rid of germs, especially before you pick up something you want to eat. Cooking utensils and surfaces should also be kept clean as bacteria can settle on surfaces.
Ensure that all foods are well cooked before consumption. Half cooked food items might still contain contamination that hasn’t been removed in the cooking process because it is incomplete. This is dangerous to the health of anyone who will consume such an item. It is always better to make sure that food is well cooked.
If you are served food and you are unsure about whether it was well stored or prepared, don’t eat it. If you are eating out and the people serving you are not clean, it is perfectly okay to not eat the food. To be on the safe side because you might be unable to get a refund in some restaurants once your order has been served, check out the environment before you settle down to make an order.
Leaving perishable food items out for too long exposes them to germs. Instead, refrigerate such items within two hours of purchase. To safely defrost food items, remove them from the freezer and place in a fridge or place under running water to reduce the possibility of contamination.