5 things you can do to avoid getting food poisoning
Food poisoning is caused by eating contaminated food and can be a painful and uncomfortable experience and – in some cases – is life-threatening.
According to the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare, 25% of people who visited an emergency department in 2018 suffered from “Injury, poisoning and certain other consequences of external causes”. While poisoning is not separated out, the group in itself is the number one reason people attend an emergency department. So, it pays to do all you can to prevent one of the most common forms of poisoning – food poisoning.
Sometimes it’s difficult to know if you are suffering from food poisoning or some other form of gastroenteritis – an illness that affects your stomach and intestines.
The cause of your discomfort could be
- bacteria (including salmonella) and toxins made by bacteria
- viruses (such as rotavirus or norovirus infections)
- chemicals (such as toxins in poisonous mushrooms)
- parasites (such as giardia)
So, what are the main things you can do to avoid getting food poisoning, what can you do to recover and when should you seek medical help?
How to prevent food poisoning
- Wash your hands with soap and water before eating.
- When in public and touching surfaces that other people have touched, (.e.g. handrails, shopping trolleys, steering wheels, etc. keep your hands away from your face and wash your hands regularly and when you get home, even if you are not about to go near food.
- Wash cutting up boards and knives used in the preparation of raw fish and poultry immediately after use in very hot water, before reusing the board and cutlery for additional food preparation. This is important to prevent cross-contamination between raw and cooked foods or salads.
- Never eat wild mushrooms or any other mushroom that you cannot be sure is safe to eat. This is extremely important and can lead to kidney and other organ failure and a life of being dependent on a dialysis machine.
- Keep your fridge at 5 degrees or below. Refrigerate leftovers as soon as they’ve stopped steaming and use or freeze them within 3 days. Consider shortening this period for bought takeaway food. It is common to hear of people who have food poisoning after eating takeaway food that has been in their fridge for too long.
- Ensure you cook poultry, pork and minced products to 75 degrees in the centre. The same applies to re-heating food. Be aware of the risk of raw or minimally cooked egg dishes.
- Be careful with seafood, fresh is best. If it smells fishy, it probably is. Don’t risk it.
- Be careful with other high-risk foods: unpasteurised milk, delicatessen foods such as pâté, cooked sliced meats, soft cheeses and pre-packed sandwiches
- If you have gastro, diarrhoea, a tummy upset, then don’t prepare or cook food for others.
- Stay away from people and places who have recently had gastro.
Common symptoms of food poisoning
If you have some of the following symptoms there’s a likely chance you may have food poisoning:
- feeling nauseous
- diarrhoea, (may contain blood or mucus)
- Stomach/bowel cramps/pain
- a high temperature. (Above 38°C)
- aching muscles
- loss of appetite
- a lack of energy and weakness / listlessness
In most cases, these symptoms will pass in a few days and you will make a full recovery. Read on to find out when it’s important to get yourself to a doctor or emergency department.
What can you do to recover?
- Rest – your body is fighting an infection so go easy on it.
- Stay hydrated. Drink water, ice cubes and take electrolytes (available from chemists). Avoid sports drinks as these can be high in sugar and accept your stomach. Some people find a bit of diluted lemon or lime juice in water helps. Others can manage mild herbal teas (peppermint, ginger, rosehip)
What to eat when you have food poisoning
Eat small portions of foods that are bland and gentle on your stomach and won’t irritate it. Start with:
- Bread / toast, crackers, bananas and rice
- Plain steamed potatoes (for potassium) pumpkin or carrots
What to avoid
For several days avoid these foods:
- Sweet foods
- Spicy foods
- Greasy or fried foods
- Bloaty / foods that ferment, e.g. cabbage, legumes/beans, onions, garlic
When should you seek medical help?
Brisbane Northside Emergency urges people to take themselves immediately to an emergency department if any of the following conditions apply to them or their loved ones.
1. If your food poison is related to these 3 foods:
If you are experiencing signs of food poisoning after consuming any
b) shellfish, or
Don’t wait to see if the symptoms resolve on their own.
2. If you are one of these people:
a) 60 years or over
c) your baby or young child has suspected food poisoning
d) you have a long-term underlying condition, such as inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), diabetes, kidney or heart disease.
you have a weak immune system – because of hereditary conditions, medication, HIV or cancer treatments or other factors,
3. If you suffer any of these conditions:
a) a temperature higher than 38.6°C
b) If you’re unable to keep down any fluids because you are vomiting repeatedly
c) blood in vomit or stools
d) extremely painful abdominal cramping
e) diarrhoea for more than three days
f) severe dehydration from repeated diarrhoea or vomiting (Symptoms include: a rapid heartbeat, confusion, sunken eyes, passing little or no urine)
g) blurry vision, tingling in arms or muscle weakness
h) your symptoms don’t start to improve after a few days
Invariably everyone will suffer food poisoning on more than one occasion throughout their lives. This highlights the importance of maintaining high hygiene standards and knowing when to seek expert medical intervention to minimise the long term risk to your health.