Food Poisoning

By-Meena Ganagani,Practicing Clinical Nutritionist,Mumbai.

Food poisoning: The illness resulting from eating food or drinking water containing poisonous substances including bacteria, viruses, pesticides, or toxins.(1)

Food poisoning symptoms vary with the source of contamination. Most types of food poisoning cause one or more of the following signs and symptoms:

  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Watery or bloody diarrhea
  • Abdominal pain and cramps
  • Fever

Signs and symptoms may start within hours after eating the contaminated food, or they may begin days or even weeks later. Sickness caused by food poisoning generally lasts from a few hours to several days. (2)

Causes of food poisoning?

Infections with microbes—viruses, bacteria, and parasites—cause most food poisoning. Harmful chemicals also cause some cases of food poisoning.

Microbes can spread to food at any time while the food is grown, harvested or slaughtered, processed, stored, shipped, or prepared. Some harmful microbes may already be present in foods when you buy them. Foods that may contain microbes include:

  • fresh produce
  • raw or under cooked meat, poultry, and eggs
  • dairy products and fruit juices that have not been pasteurized—heated to kill harmful microbes
  • fish and shellfish
  • foods that people handle during preparation, sometimes called “deli foods,” such as sliced meat, salads and cut fruit, sandwiches, and baked goods
  • processed and ready-to-eat meats
  • foods that are not properly canned or sealed (3)
When to see a doctor for food poisoning

See your doctor or healthcare provider if you have symptoms that are severe, including:

  • Bloody stools
  • High fever (temperature over 102°F, measured orally)
  • Frequent vomiting that prevents keeping liquids down (which can lead to dehydration)
  • Signs of dehydration, including little or no urination, a very dry mouth and throat, or feeling dizzy when standing up
  • Diarrhea that lasts more than 3 days (4)
Tips to avoid food poisoning
  • Avoid milk and fruit juices that are unpasteurized. Pasteurized foods have been through a process that kills germs. If milk and fruit juices are pasteurized, it will say so on the label.
  • Cook foods thoroughly, especially red meat, poultry and eggs. Cooking these foods all the way through will destroy harmful germs.
  • Eat foods soon after they have been cooked so that harmful germs don’t have time to grow.
  • Foods that are not cooked before they are eaten, such as fresh fruits and vegetables, should be rinsed under running tap water.
  • Keep hot foods hot (60°C) and cold foods cold (4°C). You should make sure your fridge is set at a temperature of 4°C or less.
  • When preparing raw meats and poultry, keep them away from cooked food, fresh fruits and vegetables. Use separate cutting boards for raw meats and vegetables.
  • When serving leftovers, make sure that you reheat foods all the way through.
  • Wash your hands with hot, soapy water before and after preparing food.
  • Keep your kitchen clean. Use a mild solution of water and soap to clean your counters, cutting boards and utensils.
  • Protect your food from insects and animals. (5)



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