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Dr Deepak K Agarwal

TreeTake is a monthly bilingual colour magazine on environment that is fully committed to serving Mother Nature with well researched, interactive and engaging articles and lots of interesting info.

Dr Deepak K Agarwal

Dr Deepak K Agarwal

Dr Deepak K Agarwal

Specialist’s Corner

Food poisoning can be an ugly start to New Year

Food poisoning is an illness that you may get after eating food contaminated by some types of bacteria, parasites, and viruses. It is mainly caused by bacteria, viruses and parasites. Bacteria are all around you—on your hands, countertops, floor, everywhere. Eating a few bacteria usually will not hurt you. However, some types of bacteria in food can make you sick. Examples of bacteria that cause food poisoning are Salmonella, Clostridium botulinum, and some types of E. coli. Many types of bacteria grow best in warm, moist places. This means that food that is not properly cooled, stored, or heated can be a great place for bacteria to grow. However, even if you cook your food properly and eat it right away, you can still get food poisoning. For example, bacteria can get into your cooked food if the food touches a knife, cutting board, plate, or countertop that was not washed after being used to prepare previous meal. That is why it is important to wash your hands, utensils, cutting boards and countertops before and after cook. Food, especially meat, can be contaminated when it is prepared for sale to grocery stores. For example, a harmful type of E. coli bacteria might get into the food at the slaughterhouse or the butcher. The bacteria that cause botulism may grow in places with no oxygen, such as sealed cans and vacuum-packed foods.

The viruses that cause food poisoning may be in water that has been contaminated with human bowel movements. The viruses get into sea foods in the water, such as oysters, clams, and other shellfish. If you drink the water or eat the seafood raw or partially cooked, you may become ill. Trichinosis is a type of parasitic food poisoning. It is caused by roundworms in pork and wild game (for example, deer). Symptoms of food poisoning may include nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, stomach pain and fever. If you have botulism, you probably will not have a fever. Common symptoms may include blurred vision, weakness, and trouble speaking, swallowing, or breathing. Depending on the cause, you may start having symptoms hours to months after you eat contaminated food. The most common types of food poisoning cause symptoms in 30 minutes to 2 days. Some types of food poisoning by shellfish may take only a few minutes to cause symptoms. Trichinosis may take months.

Food poisoning is often suspected if several people get sick after eating the same food. Your doctor will ask about your symptoms and food you have eaten, and may even ask for samples of the food. You may have tests of stool samples (bowel movement) to look for bacteria, viruses, or parasites. Treatment depends on how sick you are and what is causing the illness. Generally your general practitioner (GP) will recommend rest, a limited diet, and lots of fluids. Your GP may prescribe medicine to stop vomiting and stomach cramping. Antibiotics may be helpful for some types of food poisoning. If you have botulism, your GP may prescribe a medicine called an antitoxin and you will probably need to stay at the hospital until you are well enough to finish recovering at home. It usually takes about 1 to 5 days to recover fully from food poisoning. Infants, young children, pregnant women, adults over age 65, and people with a chronic disease or weak immune system can become seriously ill from food poisoning. In such cases, it is especially important to contact a healthcare provider when food poisoning is suspected.

If you have a fever over 100°F (37.8°C), rest as much as you can and take paracitamol or aspirin. Ask your GP before you give any medicine that contains aspirin or salicylates to a child or teen. This includes medicines like baby aspirin, some cold medicines, and Pepto-Bismol. If you have cramps or stomach pain, it may help to put a hot water bottle or heating pad on your stomach.  If you have diarrhea or nausea, you may want to let your bowel rest for a few hours by not eating anything and drinking only clear liquids. Clear liquids include water, weak tea, broth, apple or grape juice mixed with water, and sports drinks or other oral rehydration drinks. You may also drink light-colored soft drinks without caffeine (like Frooti) after stirring until the bubbles are gone. Drink enough clear fluids to keep your urine light yellow in colour. If you don’t drink enough, you may get dehydrated. Getting dehydrated can be very dangerous, especially for children, older adults, and some people who have other medical problems. Avoid milk products and caffeine for a few days. You can go back to your normal diet after a couple of days, but for several days avoid fresh fruit (other than bananas), alcohol, and greasy or fatty foods like cheeseburgers, pizza, or meat.  If you have chronic health problems, always check with your GP before you use any medicine for diarrhea.

Follow these guidelines to prevent food poisoning: Make sure the milk, cheese, and juice products you eat and drink have been pasteurized. Throw away any cans that are bulging or leaking. Do not taste any foods that look or smell suspicious after you open the container. Remember also that most contaminated foods look and smell normal. Wash your hands after you go to the bathroom or touch animals. Also wash your hands before you prepare, cook, serve, or eat food. Cover any sore or cut on your hands before preparing food. Use rubber gloves or cover the sore with a clean bandage. Rinse fresh vegetables and fruits before you eat or cook them. Wash cutting boards and other utensils. It’s best to have two cutting boards: One for raw meat and one for other foods. Keep kitchen counters and other food preparation surfaces clean. Replace used dishcloths and kitchen towels with clean ones often. Thaw frozen poultry completely before you cook it. Thaw poultry and other meats in the refrigerator or with a microwave. Do not let it stand at room temperature. Cook food thoroughly, especially meat, poultry, and leftovers. Never partially cook meat or poultry and then finish cooking it later. Refrigerate leftover meat, seafood, dairy products, eggs, or poultry as soon as possible. Do not let it sit out of the refrigerator longer than two hours. Make sure your refrigerator keeps a temperature of 40°F (4°C) or lower.

If you have food poisoning, you can help prevent spreading it to other people by avoiding unnecessary contact with others until your symptoms are gone. Wash your hands well with soap and water after you use the restroom. Do not prepare food for other people. If you must prepare or serve food, wash your hands thoroughly before you cook or serve food and before you eat. Wearing gloves during food preparation and serving will help reduce the risk of spreading infection. Do not work as a food handler in restaurants, dining halls, or grocery stores until your diarrhea is completely gone or your provider says it is safe for you to go back to work.

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