Food poisoning typically occurs when pathogens contaminate food or drinking water. Though uncomfortable, food poisoning is relatively common. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimate that 1 in 6 Americans will get some type of food poisoning this year.
Causes and symptoms
Five pathogens account for 91 percent of all foodborne illnesses in the United States. They include:
- Norovirus (commonly found in oysters, fruits, and vegetables)
- Salmonella (commonly found in eggs, meat, and dairy products)
- Clostridium perfringens (found in meat and poultry)
- Campylobacter (found in undercooked meat and contaminated water)
- Staphylococcus (found in animal products such as cream, eggs, and milk)
Salmonella and norovirus are responsible for the most hospitalizations for food poisoning, but they can also be caused by the following:
Undercooked meats or improperly handled produce are common culprits in food poisoning.
Most people who experience food poisoning don’t require a trip to the hospital, but you won’t want to venture too far from the bathroom, either. Upset stomach, vomiting, and diarrhea are the most common symptoms. They typically subside after 48 hours.
Call the poison helpline at 1-800-222-1222 if you experience severe symptoms. They track cases to help prevent an outbreak and can help determine if you should go to the hospital.
Severe symptoms of food poisoning include blood in your stool, severe abdominal cramping, blurry vision, and diarrhea lasting more than three days. Read on to find out the right things to eat to recover quickly, and how to know if you need to see a doctor.
First steps after food poisoning
Let your stomach settle. After you experience the most explosive symptoms of food poisoning like vomiting, diarrhea, and upset stomach, experts recommend letting your stomach settle. That means avoiding food and drink altogether for a few hours.
Ice chips and water. Liquid intake is crucial in helping your body fight off food poisoning. Vomiting and diarrhea can cause dehydration, so sucking on ice chips or taking small sips of water is a good starting point.
Sports drinks that contain electrolytes are the best way to prevent dehydration during this time. Other suggested liquids include:
- clear sodas (such as Sprite or 7Up)
- decaffeinated tea
- chicken or vegetable broth
Bland, gentle food. When you feel you might be able to hold down food, eat foods that are gentle on your stomach and gastrointestinal tract. Stick to bland, low-fat, low-fiber foods. Fat is harder for your stomach to digest, especially when it’s upset. Avoid fatty foods to prevent upsetting it further.
Foods that are gentle on the stomach include:
- egg whites
- peanut butter
- plain potatoes, including mashed potatoes
Brush your teeth. Stomach acid expelled during vomiting can damage the enamel on your teeth. Brush your teeth after you vomit to protect your long-term oral health and to make yourself feel refreshed in the short term.
Rest. Getting sufficient rest can also help make you feel better faster.
Natural remedies. During an episode of food poisoning, it is important for your body to follow its natural reaction to cleanse and purge the digestive tract to get rid of the harmful bacteria. That’s why an over-the-counter diarrhea medication is not a good way to treat food poisoning. While your symptoms are at their peak, you might want to try some of the following natural remedies:
- Ginger tea: Ginger is known to soothe the stomach. Its antibacterial properties help your body combat the pathogens that are causing your body’s reaction.
- Apple cider vinegar: Although not well-studied, apple cider vinegar may have antimicrobial benefits. Mix 2 teaspoons of apple cider vinegar with 1 cup of water and sip throughout the day. This may aid your body in flushing out and killing the pathogens that are making you ill.
- Activated charcoal: Not to be confused with the briquettes in your backyard grill, activated charcoal capsules are believed to quickly detoxify the human body and kill dangerous bacteria.
After you are feeling well again, you may wish to go on a probiotic regimen or take a probiotic pill for at least two weeks. This will help your body to regenerate the healthy bacteria lost in the food poisoning purge, and get your digestive system back on track.
Children, pregnant women, and older adults
Food poisoning is as common in children as it is in adults, but it can be cause for concern. Children, especially those under 1 year of age, are susceptible to botulism. Botulism is rare, but it can lead to paralysis and even death if not caught early. Children are also in greater danger of having serious reactions to the E. coli bacteria. Any infant or child that appears to have symptoms of food poisoning needs to be seen by a medical professional to rule out botulism.
Pregnant women should treat any food poisoning issue with caution. Listeria food poisoning has been shown to hurt the development of unborn babies. Proper nutrition in pregnant women is essential to helping their babies develop. For this reason, any signs of food poisoning should be brought to the attention of a medical professional.
Older adults are also more susceptible to complications from food poisoning. In particular, certain strains of E. coli can lead to hemorrhaging and kidney failure. If an adult over 60 has symptoms of food poisoning, they should contact their primary care physician for advice.
What to avoid
Your body is already on the offensive, shooing away the pathogens responsible for food poisoning. You don’t want to give the invaders any more ammunition.
Your number one priority should be to avoid the foods that caused you to get sick in the first place. Throw the suspected culprit into the garbage immediately, and keep it shut so the contaminated food is out of your pets’ reach.
Avoid foods, drinks, and substances that are tough on the stomach, such as:
- caffeine (soda, energy drinks, or coffee)
- dairy products
- fatty foods
- fried foods
- seasoned foods
Also remember to avoid any oral over-the-counter diarrhea medications.
Follow these simple tips, and you should be feeling better in no time.
When to call a doctor
The symptoms of food poisoning do not typically last more than 48 hours. If two days have passed since your symptoms first appeared, it is time to call a medical professional. Remember that severe symptoms, such as bloody stool, dizziness, muscle weakness, and severe stomach cramping should be taken seriously. Do not wait for those symptoms to subside before seeing a doctor.
Find a doctor
Food poisoning in restaurants