Most of us have suffered through food poisoning at one time or another. It generally refers to a foodborne illness or infectious condition that stems from consuming food or drinking fluids that have been contaminated by certain bacteria, viruses, parasites, or chemicals (toxins).
The process of contamination can occur at any stage of production or processing. Furthermore, if the food is improperly stored, handled, or prepared, it becomes increasingly susceptible to getting polluted by various infectious pathogens and toxins. While these contaminants cannot be eradicated from the food chain altogether, they can be kept in check by following proper and hygienic handling, cooking, and storage of food.
What Are the Common Causes of Food Poisoning?
- Bacteria such as coli, C. botulinum, Salmonella, Listeria, and Campylobacter are some of the prime culprits for foodborne diseases.
- Norovirus is the most common viral pathogen that leads to severe food poisoning, which in rare cases has also proven to be fatal. Others include sapovirus, rotavirus, and astrovirus.
- Food poisoning caused by parasites present in food is not entirely uncommon and can pose grave side effects especially in pregnant women and people with compromised immunity. Some of the common parasites that make their way to your digestive tract through what you put in your mouth are amoeba, Toxoplasma (often found in cat litter), Giardia, Trichinella, and Taenia solium.
Food can get contaminated in any of the following ways:
- Because heat from the cooking process is usually enough to kill the disease-carrying agents residing in or on the food, eating raw food or undercooked meals can pave the way for a food poisoning episode.
- Improper storage of food, for instance, not storing food at the prescribed temperature or leaving it too long in a warm climate before storing, can open it up for contamination.
- Not reheating previously prepared food is another reason for contamination.
- Cross-contamination, which is the transfer of contaminating agents from one surface to another, is often the cause for raw ready-to-eat food items such as salads to go bad. Because these items don’t undergo any heating process, the pathogens colonizing them don’t get destroyed and are ingested along with the food.
- Not washing your hands properly before handling, preparing, and eating the food can also contribute towards its defilement. Similarly, inadequately washed cooking utensils or unclean kitchen surfaces can also be harboring grounds for disease-carrying pathogens.
The foods that are most prone to getting contaminated are:
- Raw meat
- Poultry, including raw or undercooked eggs
- Raw or undercooked shellfish, oysters, and scallops
- Unpasteurized milk
- Ready-to-eat items such as soft cheeses, uncooked luncheon meats, refrigerated meat spreads or pate, and prepacked snacks such as sandwiches
- Raw unwashed fruits and vegetables
- Raw sprouts such as radish sprouts, beans, clover, and alfalfa
- Ground beef, which might contain meat from a variety of animals
What Are the Tell-Tale Signs of Food Poisoning?
Some of the symptoms of food poisoning are:
- Abdominal cramps
- Muscle pain
How to Safeguard Yourself from Food Poisoning?
- Germs can flourish on your hands and on your cooking utensils, cutting boards, and kitchen surfaces. It is, therefore, of primordial importance to disinfect every surface that your food comes in contact with. Wash your hands thoroughly with warm and soapy water before and after you handle, prepare, and eat the food. Do the same for your dishes, kitchen platforms, and other kitchen apparatus.
- Avoid cross-contamination between raw and ready-to-eat foods by keeping them entirely separate while you go shopping for them and during food preparation and storage.
- Cook foods at optimum temperatures, especially meats, fish, and eggs. Use a food thermometer to be certain that the food is actually “done,” rather than just looks done.
- Defrost foods properly, preferably in the refrigerator rather than at room temperatures. If you use a microwave for the same, be sure to cook the food immediately after and don’t leave it lying around.
- When in doubt, throw it out: If you have apprehensions about the way the food was prepared, served, or stored, it’s best to let go of it than invite possible health troubles.
- Keep your food stored at chilled temperatures by setting the refrigerator at below 40 F. In the case of perishable food items, refrigerate or freeze them within 2 hours from purchasing and quicker if the room temperature is above 90 F.
- Wash fruits and vegetables thoroughly before eating to rid them of any dirt, pesticides, toxins, and other infectious pathogens.
- If the food is already past its expiration date, chuck it out at once.
- Avoid sushi or other products that are served raw, as they may contain parasites responsible for food poisoning.
- Avoid unpasteurized milk, juices, and unwashed fruits and vegetables that are likely to cause food poisoning.
Primary Treatment for Food Poisoning
- Vomiting and diarrhea in food poisoning are the body’s ways to flush out as much toxins and pathogens as possible. However, it can also result in severe dehydration. It is therefore of primordial importance to keep the body hydrated by increasing your fluid intake to make up for the lost water content. This will in turn help amp up the body’s immune system.
- When you are suffering from food poisoning, your body is likely to suffer from a deficiency in minerals such as sodium, potassium, and calcium. Up the intake of foods that are rich sources of the said minerals to compensate for the deficit.
- Drinks such as oral rehydration solution (ORS), sports drinks, fresh fruit juices, or coconut water are effective options to restore the fluid/mineral balance.
- If the vomiting is severe such that you are unable to keep anything down, then wait for 1 hour before drinking anything. After 1 hour, start drinking fluid slowly, such as one sip of water every 5 minutes. This will give your body enough time to absorb the water without triggering another vomiting episode.
- Avoid nicotine or drinks with diuretic properties such as tea or coffee.
- You can take over-the-counter medicines to treat diarrhea or vomiting. You should consult your doctor before starting any medications for food poisoning to avoid any future complications.
- Avoid eating solid, heavy, spicy, and oily foods, which can put more strain on your already upset stomach. Some safer and healthier alternatives are bananas, boiled or mashed potatoes, boiled vegetables, oatmeal, rice, yogurt, etc. Concentrate more on taking in fluids than eating solids.
- Take plenty of rest to give your body sufficient time to fight and recover from the infection.
When to Consult a Doctor
Generally, food poisoning resolves on its own without any specific treatment, but you should contact your GP immediately if:
- You are severely ill and not able to hold on fluids due to vomiting or diarrhea.
- You are over 60 or the patient is an infant.
- You are severely dehydrated and having the following symptoms: rapid and irregular heartbeat, confusion, passing negligible or no urine, and sunken eyes.
- You are pregnant.
- You have a weakened immune system, as in the case of patients undergoing HIV or cancer treatment.
- You experience symptoms such as blood in the urine, impaired vision or speech, or a fever higher than 101.5 F.
Home Remedies for Food Poisoning
Here are the top 10 home remedies for food poisoning.
1. Ginger is a Legitimate Digestive Aid
Ginger is an excellent home remedy for curing almost all types of digestive problems, including those caused by food poisoning. Given its antimicrobial attributes, ginger helps fend off foodborne pathogens and helps in the absorption of essential nutrients from the food, thus promoting healthy digestion.
- Drink one cup of ginger tea after eating lunch or dinner to stop heartburn, nausea, and other symptoms associated with food poisoning. To make ginger tea, boil 1 teaspoon grated ginger in 1 cup of water for a few minutes. Add a little sugar or honey, and your tea is ready.
- Another option is to add a few drops of ginger juice to 1 teaspoon of honey. Swallow this mixture several times a day to reduce the inflammation and pain.
- You can also eat raw ginger slices.
2. Oregano Essential Oil Helps Eliminate the Bacteria
The two active compounds found in oregano essential oil, namely, carvacrol and thymol, boast potent antimicrobial properties that help eradicate some of the prime culprits of food poisoning – foodborne pathogens. Furthermore, oregano oil is also emerging as an effective food preservative that prevents food from going bad.
You can also use other essential oils such as thyme oil or lemon essential oil, which are equally effective against tummy bugs.
- Only use 100 percent pure food-grade oregano oil.
- Prepare a concoction by adding 1 drop of wild oil of oregano to a few drops of olive oil. Consume this thrice a day with a meal for two days. Be sure not to exceed the dosage.
3. Improve Your Digestive Functioning with a Bit of Apple Cider Vinegar
Although acidic in nature, apple cider vinegar has an alkaline effect due to the way it is metabolized in the body. It is precisely this mechanism at play that helps soothe the inflammation of the gastrointestinal lining, which is often associated with food poisoning. Moreover, it is effective against E. coli and other disease-causing bacteria due to its antibacterial properties.
A 2007 study published in the Journal of Food Protection found that vinegar and aqueous extracts of virgin olive oil showed the strongest bactericidal activity against all strains of foodborne pathogens.
- Just mix 2 tablespoons of raw, unfiltered apple cider vinegar in 1 cup of warm water and drink this solution before eating your food.
- Alternatively, you can drink 2 to 3 teaspoons of undiluted apple cider vinegar.
4. Fenugreek Seeds and Yogurt Makes for A Stomach-Friendly Combo
- The recommended amount to take is 1 teaspoon of fenugreek seeds along with 1 tablespoon of yogurt.
- You just need to swallow the seeds and need not chew them.
- The combining effect of fenugreek seeds and yogurt will give you immediate relief from stomach pain and vomiting.
5. Lemon Juice is a Detox Tonic
The anti-inflammatory, antiviral, and antibacterial properties of lemons can help speed up your recovery from a bout of food poisoning. The acid in lemons helps kill bacteria that cause food poisoning, and it is a renowned digestive aid as well.
A 2016 study published in Food Science and Nutrition found that lemon and lime juice concentrates exhibit good inhibitory and bactericidal activities against Staphylococcus aureus, which is one of the most common bacteria implicated in food poisoning.
- Just add a pinch of sugar to 1 teaspoon of lemon juice and drink this juice two to three times a day.
- You can also sip on warm water with lemon juice to clean out your system.
6. Basil May Help Relieve Abdominal Distress
You can get the benefits from basil in several ways.
- Drink basil juice extracted from a few basil leaves with 1 tablespoon of honey several times a day. You can also add some fresh coriander juice to it.
- Put a few drops of basil oil in 4 cups of drinking water. Drink it slowly throughout the day to kill bacteria causing the stomach pain and other problems.
- Add basil leaves, some sea salt, and a pinch of black pepper to 3 tablespoons of plain yogurt. Eat this mixture three to four times a day until your symptoms subside.
7. Garlic Can Give You Symptomatic Relief from Food Poisoning
- Chew one fresh garlic clove, and then wash it in with some warm water. If you can tolerate the smell of garlic, you can also try garlic juice.
- Alternatively, you can make a concoction mixing garlic oil and soybean oil and rub it on your tummy after eating.
8. Treat Yourself to a Banana
Bananas are easy on your stomach because they are easy to digest. Plus, being rich in potassium, they help replenish your potassium stores that have been depleted due to the vomiting and diarrhea that follow in the wake of food poisoning. The high fiber content only acts as a bonus to give your digestive tract the much-needed help.
Eating just one banana will also help restore your energy level.
- You can simply eat a ripe banana or make a tasty and healthy banana shake and drink it two to three times a day.
9. Trust the Healing Properties of Cumin
Cumin seeds, also called jeera, are a time-tested remedial agent to alleviate abdominal discomfort and stomach inflammation due to food poisoning.
- Boil 1 teaspoon of cumin seeds in 1 cup of water. Add 1 teaspoon of coriander juice extracted from fresh coriander leaves and a little salt. Drink this solution twice a day for a few days.
- You can also make an herbal drink from cumin seeds, salt, and asafetida. Drink it two to three times a day. This will cleanse the system and relieve your symptoms.
10. Herbal Tea Can Help Soothe Your Digestive System
Sipping on different types of herbal tea can help your disturbed gastrointestinal system regain its balance. It also works to keep your body well hydrated.
- Peppermint tea has a soothing effect on your stomach and can relieve stomach cramps.
- Comfrey root tea will work to curb your stomach infection.
- If you are experiencing nausea, try chamomile tea in order to reduce inflammation and calm your stomach.
11. Honey is a Godsend for Treating Digestive Issues
Honey has both antifungal and antibacterial properties that can be effective for the treatment of indigestion and other food poisoning symptoms. Honey as a natural remedy can be taken in its pure form or added to tea.
- A teaspoon of honey three times a day can do wonders to heal an upset stomach. It also controls the formation of excess acid in the stomach.
- In fact, when experiencing diarrhea and vomiting, it is best to increase your fluid intake with water and clear liquids and avoid taking solid food.
- Hold back from eating heavy or oily foods for the first few hours, and steer clear of dairy products, caffeine, alcohol, and nicotine.
- Treat your tummy to some restorative chicken broth from time to time.
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