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.
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 rest. That means avoiding food and drink altogether for a few hours.
Liquid intake is crucial for helping your body fight off food poisoning effects. Vomiting and diarrhea can cause dehydration, so sucking on ice chips or taking small sips of water is a good starting point.
- clear sodas (such as Sprite, 7UP, or ginger ale)
- decaffeinated tea
- chicken or vegetable broth
Eat bland 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
The BRAT diet is a good guide to follow when you have food poisoning.
Try natural remedies
During an episode of food poisoning, it’s 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.
After you are feeling well again, you may wish to replace your normal intestinal flora with natural yogurts or probiotic capsules 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 and immune system back on track.
Delay brushing your teeth for at least an hour. Stomach acid expelled during vomiting can damage the enamel on your teeth, and brushing your teeth right after you vomit can further erode the enamel. Instead, rinse your mouth with a mix of water and baking soda.
Showering helps cleanse your body of the unhealthy bacteria. You should also be sure you get plenty of rest. Getting sufficient rest can help make you feel better faster.
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)
- spicy foods
- foods high in fiber
- dairy products
- fatty foods
- fried foods
- seasoned foods
- fruit juices
Also remember to avoid any oral over-the-counter diarrhea medications.
Follow these simple tips, and you should be feeling better in no time.
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 meat and improperly handled produce are common culprits in food poisoning. Wash your hands, utensils, and plates between raw and cooked stages.
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. If you have a history of dehydration, heart disease, embolism, or other serious health problems, seek help and drink plenty of fluids.
Call the Poison Help Line at 800-222-1222 if you experience severe symptoms. They track cases to help prevent outbreaks 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. These are all indications to seek medical care. Read on to find out the right things to eat to recover quickly, and how else to know if you need to see a doctor.
Infants and children
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 and dehydration. Children become dehydrated more easily than adults and need to be monitored closely.
Pregnant women should treat any case of food poisoning 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.
People with chronic conditions
People who have chronic illnesses such as HIV/AIDS, liver disease, or diabetes are at a greater risk of experiencing more serious complications of food poisoning. You are also at a greater risk if you are receiving treatments that suppress your immune response, like chemotherapy.
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.
What can I do to prevent getting food poisoning when I go out to eat?
To avoid food poisoning at restaurants, only choose to frequent ones that have few to no health code violations. Check your local county health and human services department for restaurants with recent infractions. Many departments have a rating or number system to help you choose a restaurant and minimize your risk.Natalie Butler, RD, LDAnswers represent the opinions of our medical experts. All content is strictly informational and should not be considered medical advice.
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