Every year, 1 in 6 Americans (about 48 million people) will get sick with food poisoning. The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) tells us that 128,000 of those people will be sick enough to require hospitalization, while as many as 3,000 may die. Food poisoning (also called foodborne illness or foodborne disease) is caused by eating food that is contaminated by harmful bacteria, viruses, or toxins.
As common as food poisoning is, it’s a good idea to become familiar with its causes and symptoms so you can recognize it when it strikes. At AltaMed, we care about you and your family’s health, so we’ve put together this easy guide to understand the common sources of food poisoning, and tips for preventing it from affecting you or your family.
Food Poisoning Causes
You can get food poisoning from food that has been contaminated with parasites, allergens, or toxic substances—these can be chemicals or toxins that occur in nature like mold or certain mushrooms. The most common causes of food poisoning, though, are bacteria and viruses like salmonella, norovirus, campylobacter, E. coli, and listeria.
Food Poisoning Symptoms
Those with food poisoning usually suffer upset stomach, stomach cramping, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, and fever. It may take a few hours or even days to develop the symptoms, but the contaminant that is the source of the poisoning will determine the severity of your illness and how long you’ll be ill. Most people will only experience mild symptoms for a few days, but there is a risk that the illness may be bad enough to require hospitalization, lead to long-term health problems, or even result in death.
When It’s Time to Call the Doctor
You should contact your doctor if you are experiencing severe symptoms that last more than a few days. If you have blood in your stool, a high fever (over 101.5°F), frequent vomiting, the inability to keep liquids down, or diarrhea for more than three days, all of which can result in dehydration, it’s time to make that call.
Who Is Most Likely to Get Sick?
Some people in your home are more likely to get ill from contaminated food than others, and their symptoms are often much worse. This includes pregnant women, seniors over 65, people with chronic illnesses, infants and children under 5, and people with weak or compromised immune systems.
It’s always a good idea to have a plan for what to do if someone in your home falls ill with food poisoning. You can find out how authorities in your area investigate and control food poisoning outbreaks by checking with local, state, and national agencies. If you or someone you love does show lasting symptoms, report it to your state health department so that they can find the source, let the public know, and keep it from spreading.
Tips to Prevent the Spread of Food Poisoning
- Always wash your hands with soap and water before and after touching food
- Wash fruits and vegetables, but not meat and poultry
- Clean your countertops with hot, soapy water or disinfecting wipes (washcloths and sponges can spread bacteria and viruses)
- Clean out your refrigerator every few weeks
- Don’t keep leftovers for more than four days
- Use a food thermometer when cooking meat
- Don’t eat undercooked or raw meat, poultry, eggs, or seafood
- Avoid unpasteurized dairy products and juices
- Keep hot foods hot, and cold foods cold
If you’re still not sure if your symptoms are bad enough for a doctor’s visit, call us at 888-499-9303. We have caring, qualified professionals who can quickly assess your needs, help you find a location, and even schedule a same-day doctor appointment or connect you to the Nurse Advice Line. Food poisoning can be serious – and we’re here to help!