Summer is the season of barbecues, picnics, family reunions, and other outdoor food-centered gatherings. However in the midst of this fun, a serious concern to consider is avoiding or dealing with food poisoning. But what is food poisoning and why should you be cautious of it?
What is food poisoning?
Food poisoning, also known as foodborne illness, is an illness caused by eating contaminated food. Bacteria such as Salmonella, E. coli, or Listeria and viruses are also common causes of food poisoning in the U.S. According to the CDC, approximately 48 million people get sick from a foodborne illness every year. The symptoms are uncomfortable and can hit anywhere from a few hours to one to two days after you eat the contaminated food. This is why taking precautions to avoid it is so important.
Why is food poisoning more common in the summer?
While food poisoning is a common illness year-round, the rate of incidence and risk increases during the summer. This occurs because bacteria grows faster in warmer, humid climates. Other risks associated with food poisoning in the summer include undercooking meat at barbeques, cross-contamination of food, letting food sit out too long in the heat, not washing produce thoroughly and traveling.
How do I know if it’s food poisoning vs. a stomach bug?
If you’ve ever had food poisoning, your symptoms were likely hard to miss. The stomach bug, also known as “stomach flu” is usually a virus-driven illness, sometimes due to noroviruses. But sometimes differentiating between food poisoning and a stomach flu bug can be difficult since both conditions share common symptoms like nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, and stomach cramps.
Here are some few ways to tell the difference:
- The onset of food poisoning is typically faster than the stomach bug, since symptoms can be felt within hours. The stomach bug can take a longer time to develop.
- Food poisoning usually lasts for a day or two, while the stomach bug can last longer — even up to ten days.
- Food poisoning can be often be traced back to contaminated food, while the stomach bug doesn’t have to be related to a particular food source.
If your symptoms last longer than the typical 24 hours, and are more volatile with blood in stool or vomit, fever, or serious stomach cramps, you should see a physician as soon as possible. This could mean you may have a serious medical condition, like a bacterial infection.
What are ways to prevent the risk of food poisoning?
While preventing food poisoning can be difficult, the following methods can help reduce the risk of food poisoning:
- Keep food at cold temperatures
- Separate raw food from cooked food
- Buy whole cuts of meat instead of more processed meat
- Do not eat raw eggs and cook eggs until the yolk is firm
- Wash fresh produce thoroughly
- Use soap and water to wash your hands before and between food preparation steps
How do you treat food poisoning?
If you have food poisoning, it’s very important to make sure you stay well hydrated. Drink lots of water and hold off on caffeinated or highly sugary drinks. Sports drinks with electrolytes, Pedialyte, and fruit juices can help as well. Making sure you get enough rest can also help you feel better faster.
Related symptoms, like nausea, can be treated with a prescription from a physician. However, antibiotics are typically not helpful and antidiarrheal medications are generally not recommended.
It’s important to note that these recommendations are not a substitute for getting medical advice from a licensed professional. If you have any concerns, Doctor On Demand can help address them and provide you the support you want.
About the author
Prentiss Taylor M.D. is the Vice President of Medical Affairs at Doctor On Demand. He is board-certified in Preventive Medicine as well as in Internal Medicine. Prentiss is an honors graduate of Harvard University and of Harvard Medical School. He trained at the University of Chicago Hospitals and at Rush University Medical Center for his postgraduate years. After working for Advocate in the 1990s, Prentiss was recruited to Blue Cross Blue Shield of Illinois, where he worked for over 6 years. He was promoted to Medical Director for Care Management, responsible for 1.2 million people in the Blue Cross PPO programs.