What you need to know about food poisoning

Dr Michelle O'Driscoll shares some advice on how to avoid food poisoning, what the symptoms are, and advice on treating it 
What you need to know about food poisoning

The most commonly experienced symptoms of food poisoning are nausea, vomiting, diarrhoea and stomach cramps. You can also have muscle aches, fatigue, fever, chills and loss of appetite. Picture: Stock

WE’RE used to the warnings we receive about minding what we eat and drink whilst away on holidays, in order to avoid picking up an illness.

But it’s something that can very easily happen at home too, whether that’s in our own kitchens or while eating out.

The storage, preparation and timely consumption of food is vital to prevent bacterial growth and subsequent sickness.

If you’re a mum who’s often batch cooking and keeping for another day, the appropriate guidance needs to be followed while preparing and storing food, or food poisoning may occur.

Food poisoning symptoms usually present a day or two after eating, but can happen anything between a few hours and a few weeks later, according to the Health Service Executive.

Mostly, symptoms pass within a few days, but one can be left feeling quite weak and tired for a time afterwards.

The most commonly experienced symptoms are nausea, vomiting, diarrhoea and stomach cramps. You can also have muscle aches, fatigue, fever, chills and loss of appetite.

For small children in particular, this can be very miserable, and the juggle really happens if several in the house are experiencing the same thing simultaneously.

The most common food culprits for such a thing to occur are raw meat, and shellfish, unpasteurised foods and ready to eat foods such as pate or sliced ham. The most common bacteria in question are campylobacter, salmonella, ecoli and listeria. It’s for this reason that pregnant women are advised to avoid some of these food groups, to limit their risk of ingesting something harmful.

If you do end up getting food poisoning, it can mostly be treated at home. Because it usually passes in a few days, you can keep yourself hydrated and should stay off school or work in case of passing it on.

Eating bland foods when you feel able, and taking small sips at a time of fluids is advised. You can ask your pharmacy about the appropriateness of using oral rehydration salts too.

It is advisable to contact your GP if you’re not able to keep down any fluids and are showing signs of dehydration, if you’re over 60 or if it’s a baby suffering from it, if your immune system is compromised due to other conditions or medication, or if you’re pregnant. 

It may be that they will prescribe antibiotics after testing the stool in these severe cases, but for the most part it isn’t warranted. In very severe cases, hospitalisation may be warranted.

Prevention can be achieved through basic hygiene of hands and work surfaces, as these typically harbour the bacteria. You should handle raw meat very carefully, with separate chopping boards for meat and other foods to prevent transfer of bacteria.

You should store meat separate to other foods in a cool fridge below 5 degrees, covered and in the bottom section to prevent dripping onto things like salads.

Use-by dates on food are very important to adhere to as they are scientifically investigated, and the safety of the food cannot be guaranteed past that point, even if it looks and smells OK.

Cook food thoroughly to eliminate bacteria, and if keeping cooked food for another time, get it to cool down within 90 minutes before storing in the fridge or freezer.

Eating out, the Food Safety Authority of Ireland oversees the safe handling and storage of food in such premises.

Although usually self-limiting, food poisoning is unpleasant and can occasionally be more serious, depending on the person’s health status and level or type of infection. Appropriate storage and cooking of food, coupled with adequate hygiene measures will help to prevent it occurring.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Dr Michelle O’Driscoll is a pharmacist, researcher and founder of InTuition, a health and wellness education company.

Her research lies in the area of mental health education, and through InTuition she delivers health promotion workshops to corporate and academic organisations nationally.

See www.intuition.ie

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