(Food Poisoning; Foodborne Disease; Foodborne Infection)
Foodborne illness is sickness that happens after eating or drinking contaminated foods or drinks.
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Foodborne illness is caused by food that has certain:
- Bacteria or poisons and toxins made by them
- Amoebas or parasites
Foodborne illness is more common in babies and older adults. Other things that may raise the risk are:
- Poor hygiene
- Problems keeping food at the right temperature
- Not preparing food safely
- Having a weak immune system
Problems may not start until hours or weeks after consuming the food or drink. They may be mild to severe.
Problems may be:
- Digestive problems such as:
- Nausea and vomiting
- Blood in stools (poop) or vomit
- Belly pain or cramps
- Weakness and lightheadedness
- Not passing urine (pee)
- A very dry mouth or throat
- Muscle aches and pains
- Fever or chills
The doctor will ask about symptoms and past health. A physical exam will be done. You may be asked about the foods and drinks you have had. This may be enough to suspect the diagnosis.
Tests may be done if the cause is not clear or symptoms are severe. Tests may include:
- Blood tests
- Urine tests
- Stool tests
- Vomit tests
Most foodborne illness will improve in 12 to 48 hours. Symptoms can be managed by:
- Drinking plenty of fluids to replace those lost with diarrhea and vomiting
- Eating soft, bland foods until symptoms have passed
- Taking medicines, such as:
- Over the counter pain relievers
Some foodborne illnesses will need medical care. For example:
- Fluids may be given through IV to treat dehydration.
- Botulism needs to be treated with an antitoxin.
- Some types of infections may need antibiotics.
The risk of this problem may be lowered by:
- Only eating and drinking milk products that are pasteurized
- Washing hands before touching food
- Cooking foods well
- Rinsing and peeling fresh fruits and vegetables before eating them
- Not putting any foods on a surface that once had raw meat on it
- Using different tools for meat and other foods
- Not cooking or eating items that use raw egg, such as dressings and sauces
- Keeping food at the right temperature
- To lower the risk when visiting places where this problem is common:
- Drink bottled water and do not order drinks with ice
- Only eat cooked fruits and vegetables
- Do not eat foods from street vendors
- Those with a weak immune system or are pregnant should avoid foods with higher risk of problems such as:
- Raw shellfish
- Rare meat, hot dogs, deli meats, fermented or dry sausages
- Unpasteurized dairy products
- Food poisoning. Family Doctor—American Academy of Family Physicians website. Available at: https://familydoctor.org/condition/food-poisoning.
- Food poisoning. FoodSafety.gov website. Available at: https://www.foodsafety.gov/food-poisoning.
- Food poisoning. Kids Health—Nemours Foundation website. Available at:https://www.kidshealth.org/en/kids/food-poisoning.html.
- Foodborne illnesses. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: https://www.dynamed.com/condition/foodborne-illnesses.
- Shane AL, Mody RK, et al. 2017 Infectious Diseases Society of America Clinical Practice Guidelines for the Diagnosis and Management of Infectious Diarrhea. Clin Infect Dis. 2017;65(12):e45-e80.
- Elizabeth Margaret Prusak, MD
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