The Ins and Outs of Food Poisoning

A family of four enjoys a summer picnic, outdoors, sitting at a picnic table enjoying summer foods.
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While outdoor barbecues and social gatherings are meant to be fun for the whole family, they can quickly take a turn for the worst if you aren’t careful with your food safety: Mixing many picnic foods with the intense summer heat can be a recipe for disaster.

Learning more about food poisoning and how to prevent it will help you protect your family from uncomfortable symptoms. Here’s what you need to know.

What is Food Poisoning?

Food poisoning is an infection in your gastrointestinal tract caused by bacteria, viruses or parasites that can grow and multiply within food. These organisms can get into your body through the food you eat any time it’s prepared, stored or served improperly — and can cause infection and illness.

How Can I Prevent Food Poisoning?

Proper Food Storage and Handling

When handling and cooking foods in your kitchen, you should:

  • Always thaw foods in the refrigerator, not on the counter
  • Cook all foods to a safe temperature; red meat and pork to 145 degrees Fahrenheit and poultry to 165 degrees Fahrenheit
  • Keep raw meats away from ready-to-eat foods like vegetables
  • Pay attention to expiration dates and labels
  • Refrigerate foods that require it within two hours of buying or preparing them
  • Use hot soapy water to wash your hands, utensils and prep surfaces frequently
  • Use separate cutting boards for raw meats and produce

Pay Attention to Food Recalls

Contamination can happen while foods are grown or produced, leading to outbreaks of E. coli or listeria. If you’ve purchased a food that is part of a recall, return it to your grocery store for a refund.

Be Aware of What You’re Eating, No Matter Where You Are

You won’t always be the person preparing the food your family will eat at summer gatherings. Before eating, you should ask yourself (and teach your children to also ask themselves):

  1. When was this food brought outside?
  2. How long has the food been sitting?
  3. Does the food require — or contain any ingredients that require — refrigeration?
  4. What’s the temperature outside?

These foods or ingredients can put you at the greatest risk for food poisoning, especially if it’s warm outside:

  • Dairy products
  • Foods made in bulk
  • Fresh produce
  • Raw eggs
  • Raw or undercooked meat or seafood
  • Unpasteurized milk or juice

Keep in mind that in 90-degree heat, food can start to spoil within an hour.

What Are the Symptoms of Food Poisoning?

Symptoms of food poisoning can start within hours, days or weeks of eating contaminated food, but you’re most likely to experience them within a few hours. Symptoms may include:

  • Abdominal pain and cramping
  • Diarrhea
  • Fever
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting

While food poisoning usually isn’t serious, it can pose a greater risk for serious complications in pregnant women, older adults, infants and young children. You should see a doctor if you have bloody vomit or diarrhea or your illness lasts more than three days. You should also seek medical attention for a fever above 100.4 degrees or if you have more serious symptoms like blurry vision or weakness in your muscles.

How is Food Poisoning Diagnosed?

Typically, your doctor can diagnose food poisoning simply by asking you questions about your symptoms and what food you’ve eaten lately. In some cases, your doctor may use a stool sample or blood test to identify the exact cause of your food poisoning.

How is Food Poisoning Treated?

Usually, food poisoning will just need to run its course. However, since dehydration can be a serious complication of food poisoning, it’s important to replace all the fluids and minerals you lose when vomiting or having diarrhea by drinking water, electrolyte sports drinks or broths.

If you’re having especially severe symptoms and have food poisoning caused by bacteria, your doctor may also prescribe antibiotics.

As you recover from food poisoning, be gentle on your stomach. Eat small amounts of food at a time and avoid foods that can be hard to digest like dairy products, high fat foods, spicy foods, alcohol and caffeine.

Know Where to Go When You Need Help

Having a better understanding of how food poisoning is caused allows you to take care when storing and prepping your foods to best protect your family, friends and neighbors. However, if food poisoning does happen to you or someone you love, it’s important to know where to go for medical help.

Seeing your primary care physician is a great first step unless you’re pregnant, especially vulnerable or experiencing serious symptoms. If your primary care physician isn’t available, you can visit your closest Centra Care urgent care center for immediate treatment. Learn more about AdventHealth urgent care centers and find the nearest location to you.

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