Foodborne illnesses can wreak havoc on the body. Symptoms include nausea, vomiting, abdominal pain, diarrhea and even fever, says Jacob Tipps, M.D., a family medicine physician with INTEGRIS Health Medical Group – Cross Timbers in Edmond. 

Often referred to as food poisoning, foodborne illnesses are caused by bacteria, viruses and/or parasites. 

“The two most common bacterial sources are salmonella and clostridium perfringens, with the most common viral cause being norovirus,” says Tipps. “Symptoms of foodborne illness can appear hours after eating contaminated food, or may not appear until days later depending on the organism.”

Typically, treatment for a foodborne illness is predominantly supportive care, says Tipps, with the goals being to drink plenty of fluids, eat small, low-fat meals and rest as much as needed. 

“The best options for rehydration are oral rehydration solutions such as Pedialyte, however sports drinks such as Gatorade or Powerade are acceptable in otherwise healthy adults who are not dehydrated,” he says.

While most people recover quickly from food poisoning, there may be times when medical attention is needed, especially if you develop bloody diarrhea.  

“If your symptoms are not getting better, your doctor may order stool cultures to look for specific infections that are causing your symptoms,” says Tipps. “Antibiotics are not usually needed, and in some cases can make the illness worse. Antidiarrheal medications such as loperamide (Imodium) can be useful for symptomatic treatment of watery diarrhea. Your doctor may also prescribe an anti-nausea medication to help treat vomiting so that you can maintain hydration.” 

If you become sick, it’s also important to stay away from others during the duration. 

“If you do have diarrhea and/or vomiting, you should be cautious to avoid spreading the infection,” he says. “Limit contact with others and make sure to wash your hands frequently. You are considered contagious for at least as long as vomiting or diarrhea continues.”  

Staying Safe

To help lower your risk of consuming contaminated food, there are a few simple rules you can follow. 

“The most important thing is food safety,” says Tipps. “Don’t drink raw [unpasteurized] milk. Wash fruits and vegetables thoroughly before eating, using cold water. Use precooked or perishable foods as soon as possible, and never leave cooked foods at room temperature for more than two hours.” 

Additional tips from the Oklahoma State Department of Health include washing hands, utensils and cutting boards before and after contact with raw meat, poultry, seafood and eggs, as well as keeping items separated. 

When working with raw food, be sure to keep it away from ready-to-eat foods such as fruits and vegetables. Use a food thermometer to determine whether or not food has been cooked thoroughly. Recommended internal temperatures are 145°F for roasts and steaks, 165°F for whole poultry and 160°F for ground meats. To adequately refrigerate foods – because colder temperatures help slow the growth of disease-causing pathogens – set your refrigerator to 40°F or colder, and the freezer should be kept at 0°F.

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