Food poisoning: 3 early signs to look out for

Food poisoning is caused by more than 250 bacteria, viruses and parasites and can lead to death in extreme cases.

At least 180 people die in the United Kingdom each year from food poisoning, according to the Food Standards Agency (FSA). The agency also estimates that about 2.4 million cases of foodborne diseases are reported annually in the UK.

What is food poisoning?

Foodborne illness, also known as food poisoning, is caused by consuming, undercooked, contaminated, spoilt or toxic food. It is caused by more than 250 bacteria, viruses and parasites. These pathogens can be found in foods at the growing, packaging, shipping, storing or cooking stages.

Certain foods are more likely than others to contain these disease-causing organisms. Foods like raw eggs, unpasteurized milk and juice, soft cheeses, raw or undercooked meat or seafood could increase the risk of food poisoning. Other risk factors include fresh produce and food made in bulk.

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Raw eggs, unpasteurized milk, soft cheeses, raw or undercooked meat, fish or seafood can cause it. Getty/ Mike Kemp

The risk of getting food poisoning is higher in the summer, as heat causes food to go bad easily.

The majority of food poisoning cases do not result in hospitalization, but they can cause severe illness or even death.

Food poisoning symptoms

The symptoms of food poisoning often strike shortly after the infected food is consumed. However, the first symptoms can also be detected only days later, making it difficult to determine which food caused it.

The most common symptoms include nausea, vomiting, stomach cramp and diarrhoea. Others are loss of appetite, headache, fever and weakness. These symptoms often clear in a couple of days or even hours, but you should be concerned when:

  • Your diarrhoea lasts for more than three days
  • You have a fever higher than 38.9 degrees Celsius
  • You have difficulty speaking or seeing
  • You start to experience symptoms of severe dehydration such as dry mouth, and difficulty keeping fluids down
  • You see blood in your urine

If you suspect your food poisoning is caused by seafood or wild mushrooms, call 999 immediately.

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You should call 999 immediately if the food poisoning is caused by seafood or wild mushrooms. Getty/ jganser

Treatment

Since much fluid is lost when you get food poisoning, it is important to always stay hydrated. Sports drinks with high electrolytes content are great options, and so are food fruit juice and coconut.

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By all means, avoid caffeine as it could irritate the digestive tract. Decaffeinated herbal teas such as chamomile, peppermint and dandelion are great at calming an upset stomach.

You could also take over-the-counter medication to help with the diarrhoea and vomiting, but consult your doctor before you take these.

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