Food poisoning has been in the national news quite frequently lately associated with a national restaurant chain, cantaloupes and bagged lettuce. The question is how do we distinguish food poisoning from a stomach bug? Food poisoning is caused by eating food contaminated with viruses, parasites or bacteria. The contamination can occur anywhere along the food chain from harvest to preparation and storage.
Symptoms are severe vomiting, inability to keep food or liquids down, fever, diarrhea for more than 3 days, and abdominal cramping. Dehydration can follow after these symptoms which can lead to more serious problems. It is important to try and determine what bacteria or contaminant is involved. Food contaminated with E.coli and Listeria are the most serious. Your doctor can order lab tests to determine the cause of the illness and if necessary your local health organization will be notified in order to determine if other people have been affected. Depending on the severity of symptoms over the counter medications can relieve symptoms or at worst IV fluids and antibiotic prescriptions are needed.
Stomach viruses may have some of these same symptoms but the presence of bacteria will indicate the symptoms are related to food poisoning. Most of food poisoning goes unreported because people do not seek medical attention or their primary care physician does not order the proper testing to determine the root cause of the illness.
Raw meat and poultry, raw eggs, raw shellfish and unpasteurized milk are the most frequent sources of contamination. In the food production process it is very difficult to pinpoint the exact source due to the multiple sources of food that are combined in the food production. Fresh fruits and vegetables can also be a danger if not washed and cleaned properly.
To prevent food poisoning it is important to wash hands and surfaces, and thoroughly wash fresh fruit and vegetables. Make sure all food is cooked to the recommended internal temperature. After cooking it is important to refrigerate foods promptly.