Food poisoning is an illness caused by eating contaminated food. It typically presents with vomiting and diarrhea. In most cases, the food is contaminated by bacteria such as E coli and Salmonella. In rarer situations, food can be contaminated with viruses or other toxins. Also known as food borne illness, food poisoning, is not a serious illness. Most people get better within a few days even without treatment. This article discuses food poisoning at length, with greater emphasis on home remedies for food poisoning.
How Long Does Food Poisoning Last?
Food poisoning symptoms usually go away in a day or two, other symptoms may last a number of days. Parasitic infections however may take weeks or months if they are not treated promptly. Dehydration from vomiting and diarrhea makes your body even weaker. Making sure your fluids and electrolytes are replenished actually helps you recover faster (dehydration makes vomiting worse).
Food Poisoning Causes, Food Poisoning Types
What Causes Food Poisoning? Food can get contaminated during any stage of its production; Processing, packaging, or cooking. Instances where food can get contaminated include;
- Poor storage, do not store raw meat on ready to eat meals
- Under cooking particularly meat
- Food handling by someone who has diarrhea or vomiting
- Cross contamination between food and surfaces ( wash chopping boards thoroughly after preparing raw meats and poultry)
Harmful organisms can be found in almost all foods. Washing and cooking is usually sufficient to kill these disease causing organisms before eating. Foods that are consumed raw are usually the major culprits of food poisoning. Food may also be contaminated when it comes in contact with fecal matter. This happens when one handles or prepares food before washing their hands.
So, what causes food poisoning? Food borne illnesses can be traced to one of these three major causes:
Bacterial Food Poisoning
This is the most common cause of food poisoning. Bacteria that are common food-borne illness agents include: E coli, Listeria and Salmonella.
Campylobacter bacteria is the most common cause of food poisoning in the UK and US. This bacteria is usually found in raw or under cooked meat (poultry), untreated water and unpasteurized milk.
Salmonella (Salmonellosis) bacteria, another common cause of food poisoning. Salmonella can be passed on to humans from domestic and wild animals. It is often found in raw or undercooked meat, raw eggs and dairy products. Food prepared on surfaces that have been contaminated by raw chicken can also have salmonella bacteria.
Listeria monocytogens bacteria is found in most ready to eat foods such as sandwiches, cooked sliced meats, soft cheeses. Listeria which causes listeriosis is especially dangerous in pregnant women as it can cause child complications and result in miscarriages.
Escherichia coli commonly known as E. coli is bacteria naturally found in the digestive system of animals (including humans). Most E. coli strains are harmless but some can result in serious illness. You can get this type of food poisoning from eating undercooked meats in mince, burgers and consuming unpasteurized milk.
Shigella (shigellosis or bacillary dysentery) bacteria can be found in any foods that have been washed with contaminated water.
Viral Food Poisoning, Symptoms, Treatment, Is it Contagious
The norovirus is the most common cause of vital food poisoning in adults. Contact with raw fish particularly seafood such as oysters is a common source of infection. The norovirus can easily be spread from person to person through contaminated food or water.
However, in children, the Rotavirus is a common cause of diarrhea and vomiting. The incubation period is usually 1 week and symptoms pass in 5-7 days. Treatment involves management of symptoms to prevent dehydration.
Parasitic Food Poisoning
Most parasites that cause foodborne illnesses are ingested with contaminated food or water. Common culprits are: Giardia intestinalis, Taenia solium, Entamoeba histolytica and Cryptosporidium. The incubation period of parasitic food poisoning is within 10 days of eating contaminated food. If left untreated, these symptoms can last even for weeks or months.
Chemical Food Poisoning
Certain chemicals are considered toxic and can cause foodborne intoxication. Mercury is a common food contaminant found in water and fish such as tuna. Other chemicals that can contaminated food and water are pesticides, lead and polychlorinated biphenyls.
Symptoms for Food Poisoning
Presentation of food poisoning depends on the causative agent. Onset may be within a few hours of eating contaminated food. Sometimes it takes a number of weeks. Mild food poisoning may clear up within a day while severe infection will take up to 10 days.
The first early signs of food poisoning include:
- Stomach pain, bloating and cramps
- Fever/ chills
- Muscle weakness
In rare cases, one may experience neurological symptoms such as dizziness, blurred vision, numbness and tingling in the arms. Severe cases may cause difficulty in breathing.
Most people recover from food poisoning at home even without treatment. In the meantime, take plenty of fluids even in sips to prevent dehydration.
Home Remedies for Food Poisoning
Contamination of food can occur at any point during processing, production or consumption. Improper handling or cooking food at home is a major cause of food poisoning. Bacteria, viruses or parasites can be found in almost all food we eat. Heating the food while cooking kills these pathogens.
The home remedies for food poisoning discussed below will keep you more comfortable and help prevent dehydration during the recovery period.
1. Apple Cider Vinegar
Apple cider vinegar is the best remedy among natural food poisoning cures. Though acidic in nature, it has alkaline effects when metabolized in the body thus can alleviate food poisoning symptoms. It soothes the gastrointestinal lining and offers relief from symptoms such as diarrhea and vomiting.
Taking ACV has an array of antimicrobial benefits for abdominal problems such as stomach flu and food borne illnesses such as E. coli. If you experience stomach upset after eating spoiled food;
- Add two tablespoons of Braggs or Heinz ACV in a cup of hot water and drink it before eating other foods
- Alternatively, you can drink two tablespoons of undiluted ACV several times a day
Ginger has for long been used as a remedy for a number of digestive ailments. It has powerful therapeutic effects. It is the best and quickest remedy to get rid of food poisoning. Any type of ginger preparation is good with nausea
- Chew on raw ginger slices to alleviate nausea
- Make ginger tea by boiling a cup of grated ginger in a cup of water for a few minutes. Add in a little honey. Drink this tea after eating food to stop nausea and other food poisoning symptoms
- Add a few drops of ginger juice into a teaspoon of honey. Swallow this several times a day to reduce stomach pain
- Ginger ale can also help with rehydration and settling your stomach
Is cinnamon good for food poisoning? Cinnamon can effectively cure food poisoning. It is potent and can kill bacteria such as E.coli. It is also effective against viruses and can reduce bloating.
- Prepare cinnamon tea by adding two cinnamon quills to one and half cups of water.
- Allow it to boil for about 20 minutes
- Let it steep for 5 minutes
- Strain and sip slowly to get relief from stomach upsets due to food poisoning
A combination of cinnamon and honey or ginger is also very good for stomach flu
3. Basil Leaves
Basil leaves are widely used for their medicinal properties. They have anti-bacterial properties the effectively help with acute stomach problems. Basil also helps with diarrhea and vomiting, the main symptoms of food poisoning.
- Grind a handful of fresh basil leaves with a mortar and pestle.
- Add a pinch of salt, black pepper and 4 tablespoons of yoghurt- mix them well
- Take the basil and yoghurt blend a few times a day to get relief from food poisoning
Lemon has strong antibacterial and anti-inflammatory properties. Lemon also has vitamin C which is an immune booster. The acidic nature of lemon helps to kill bacteria that cause food poisoning. Ginger and lemon or honey and lemon are the most common combinations used to food poisoning treatment at home. However, you can simply take warm water with lemon juice to flush out toxins from your gastrointestinal system.
Garlic is another powerful food poisoning home remedy. It has strong anti-viral and anti-bacterial properties. It also helps relieve diarrhea and stomach pain.
- Chew on a fresh clove of garlic or drink garlic juice (if you can tolerate the awful smell)
- Alternatively, mix garlic oil with soybean oil and rub it on your stomach after eating
Cumin seeds also known as jeera help relieve abdominal pain and discomfort due to food poisoning.
- Boil a teaspoon of cumin seeds in a cup of water
- Add a teaspoon freshly extracted coriander juice and add a little salt
- Drink this twice daily for a few days
Honey has strong anti-fungal and antibacterial properties that are effective in curing indigestion and other food poisoning symptoms. It can be taken in is pure form or used to make different types of teas.
Take a teaspoon of honey three times a day to get relief from stomach upsets. It will also help relieve bloating and excessive stomach acid.
Yogurt is a natural antibacterial and antimicrobial agent. When used together with fenugreek seeds, it helps to treat abdominal discomfort from stomach bugs. Yogurt has probiotics that can help restore the balance of good bacteria in the intestines.
Food Poisoning Recovery
Before treatment, it is important to figure out what may have caused your food poisoning. Try to remember what you ate in the last 4 to 36 hours especially if you tried something new. Poisonous mushrooms and fish are the most common culprits particularly in young adventurous people.
NOTE: Avoid taking anti-diarrhea medicines, Diarrhea is one way the body uses to get rid of toxins and harmful pathogens. The sooner those bugs get out, the better.
Prevention of Food Poisoning
To avoid food poisoning, ensure you maintain high standards of personal and food hygiene during handling, preparation and storage of food. It is recommended that you consume food as per their use by date and stick to the storage instructions.
To prevent contamination of food and the spread of food borne illnesses:
- Maintain high personal hygiene standards. Keep work surfaces and utensils clean. Wash your hands regularly with soap and water;
- After going to the toilet and changing baby’s nappy
- Before preparing food
- After handling raw food
- After handling pets
Do not handle food when you have diarrhea or vomiting. Make sure you cover all wounds and cuts while handling food.
- Cook food thoroughly particularly meats and seafood to kill any bacteria present. When reheating food, make sure it is steaming hot all the way to the center. Do not reheat food more than once after refrigeration.
- Chill food under the right temperature to prevent growth and multiplication of harmful bacteria. Set your refrigerator to 0-5 degrees Celsius. Food leftovers should be frozen or refrigerated within a couple of hours.
- Avoid cross contamination by;
- Wash your hands before and preparation of food
- Store raw and ready to eat foods separately
- Use different chopping boards for raw foods and ready to eat foods. Alternatively, wash the board thoroughly in between preparation of different types of foods
- Clean knives and utensils thoroughly before and after using them on different types of foods
Natural Remedies for Food Poisoning
Food poisoning can be easily recognized by typical symptoms as discussed above. In mild food poisoning, you do not need to seek medical treatment. These simple natural remedies for food poisoning will help prevent dehydration and ease you to faster recovery.
Control Nausea and Vomiting
- Allow your stomach a few hours before you begin eating or drinking
- Ease yourself back to eating. Begin with light bland foods such as rice, bread and fruits. Avoid eating solid foods until vomiting slows down
- Foods such as dairy products, caffeine, alcohol and spicy foods should be avoided till you get better. Avoid eating greasy, spicy, fried or sugary foods
- Sipping on liquids slowly may help with vomiting
- DO NOT take anti-nausea or anti-diarrhea medication without consulting your doctor. Some medicines may make symptoms worse.
Drink clear fluids that are less sugary such as clear soda, clear broth or non-caffeinated drinks. Begin with small sips and gradually increase. Try sucking on ice chips to get as much water as you can maintain. You’ll know that you are getting enough fluids when your urine comes out clear.
If vomiting and diarrhea lasts more than 24 hours, drink Oral Re-hydration Solution (ORS).
ORS is recommended for people who are vulnerable to the effects of dehydration such as children, the elderly and those with pre-existing health conditions. It helps to replace certain types of salts, glucose and other important minerals in the body. It is available in sachets and should be dissolved in water before drinking. Some types of re-hydration salts may not be suitable for people with kidney conditions.
Rest as Much as Possible
Dehydration from vomiting and diarrhea can weaken you. Conserve as much rest as possible by resting.
When to Consult a Doctor
Signs and symptoms of food poisoning may be severe or persistent if you are elderly or have an underlying medical condition. Tests will be carried out to determine the cause of your food poisoning. Further treatments like antibiotics for bacterial food poisoning may be prescribed.
You may also need anti-emetics (medication to stop vomiting). In severe cases, you may be admitted to hospital for some for fluid replacement intravenously. Call a doctor immediately if you have any of the following symptoms
- Severe abdominal pain and cramping
- You get frequent episodes of vomiting with inability to keep fluids down
- Temperature of 38 degrees or higher
- Blood in vomit or stools
- Signs of dehydration such as dry mouth, excessive thirst, no urination, dizziness and severe weakness
- You get any neurological symptoms such as blurred vision, tingling in the arms or muscle weakness
Also contact the doctor
- If food poisoning was caused by ingestion of a poisonous fish or mushrooms.
- If the person with food poisoning is an infant or adult over the age of 65 years.
- If the person with food poisoning is pregnant.
Is Food Poisoning Contagious? How to Prevent the Spread of Infection
Depending on the causative agent, food poisoning can easily be spread from one person to another. Bacteria, Viruses and Parasites that cause diarrhea and vomiting are food borne. If you have a food-borne illness, you should not prepare food for other people. Try as much as possible to reduce contact with vulnerable people such as the elderly and the children. Keep off institutions such as work and school until 48 hours after the last episode of diarrhea.
To prevent the spread of food poisoning infection;
Ensure you and the people in your household wash their hands thoroughly with soap and water. This should be done regularly especially after going to the toilet, before and after preparing food. Clean toilet surfaces, tap handles, basins and counter tips frequently.
If you think your food poisoning has been caused by any food outlet, you should report this to your local environmental health office. Investigations and necessary steps will be taken to make sure the eatery improves on its hygiene standards.