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Caring for Someone with Food Poisoning

Posted in Food Safety,Our Blog,Outbreaks & Recalls on March 19, 2019

It is the worst feeling in the world to see your loved one hurt or sick and not know how to help them or feel powerless to make them feel better.  Sometimes there is something that you can do.  Ice a bruise.  Give aspirin for a headache.  Put on a bandage and kiss a scrape.  But what about something that just has to run its course?  Like a cold.  Or food poisoning.  In some cases, the sickened loved one feel pretty bad, but does not need serious medical attention.  All you can really do is monitor the symptoms, help them feel more comfortable, and seek medical attention if necessary. Caring for someone with food poisoning is actually pretty stressful.

How Do You Know It’s Food Poisoning?

Many times, food poisoning or foodborne illness presents much like the flu – but with additional symptoms.  If you think you or a loved one might have food poisoning, it is a good idea to get checked out by a healthcare provider and let them know it might be food poisoning.  You can get tested to confirm what is making you sick and your information can be put into a database in case others might be sick with the same bug you have.  This will allow investigators to move more quickly in the event there is an outbreak associated with something that you have eaten.

In the meantime, look out for the following symptoms:

  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Stomach Cramps
  • High Temperature (fever)
  • Tiredness
  • Aches
  • Chills

These symptoms may appear at different times after exposure depending on the bug that has made you or a loved one sick.  Symptoms may begin anywhere from a few hours after consuming a contaminated food up to several weeks.

Most symptoms will resolve within a week.  The sick person should not return to work or school right away.  Wait until the sickened person is symptom free for about 2 days.  During these 2 days the bugs are looking for a new host, so the sick individual is most infectious during this time.

What Causes Food Poisoning?

There are many different ways that food can be contaminated with harmful germs.  Everything from unsafe handling, to temperature control, to contamination.

Major contributing factors include:

  • Improper Cooking or Heating Temperature: Food should be cooked or reheated to the appropriate temperature for the food type. A food thermometer should be used every time to ensure food reaches a safe internal temperature.  Refer to the following website for a helpful chart: https://www.foodsafety.gov/keep/charts/mintemp.html
  • Improper Cooling or Storage Temperature: Food should be refrigerated below 40 ºF or frozen below 0 ºF. Foods should be cooled appropriately to avoid warm patches inside the food product that could allow harmful bacteria to grow and contaminate your food – even when frozen.
  • Improper Room Temperature Duration: Food should not hang out in the danger zone for more than 2 hours or 1 hour if the temperature is above 90 ºF. The danger zone is the temperature between 40 ºF and 140 ºF.  Within this temperature range, bacteria can quickly multiply into dangerous and infectious amounts.
  • Improper Handwashing Habits: If food is handled by someone who is sick or hasn’t washed their hands, harmful germs can transfer to an unknowing person. Most foodborne illnesses are spread through fecal-oral transmission.  When someone goes to the bathroom or changes a diaper or comes in contact with something contaminated and handles another person’s food, transmission is likely.  If you do not wash your hands after handling something potentially contaminated and then eat, transmission is likely.

What Are Some Common Food Poisonings?

There are many different bugs out there lurking in food products that can make you or a loved one sick.

  • Norovirus: Norovirus can be transmitted from raw fruits and vegetables, shellfish (such as lobster and clams), and most likely from food handlers who have norovirus.
  • Salmonella: Salmonella is often found on raw or undercooked meats, raw dairy products such as milk, and raw eggs.
  • Clostridium perfringens: Clostridium perfringens happens when food is left unrefrigerated for too long. Common food products include meats, stews, and gravies.
  • Campylobacter: Campylobacter is a germ that can be found in raw or undercooked meat, particularly chicken. Also in unpasteurized milk or contaminated water.
  • Shigella: Shigella is often associated with seafood and raw, ready-to-eat fruits and vegetables, but can also be found in contaminated water used to clean food.
  • coli: E. coli is often found in undercooked beef (particularly ground beef) and unpasteurized milk.
  • Giardia intestinalis: Giardia is a parasite found in stream water. Many times, it is found in food that has been tainted by contaminated stool.
  • Listeria monocytogenes: Listeria monocytogenes is common in packaged foods. Things like hot dogs and lunch meats. It can also be found in soft cheeses and raw fruits and vegetables.

How to Treat Food Poisoning

Once you have determined that the sickness is indeed food poisoning and been advised that medical treatment is not necessary, you can take a few simple actions to help yourself or a loved one make it through this sickness the best way you can.

Unless you are severely dehydrated, are infected with certain bacteria (such as Listeria), are pregnant, or have a weakened immune system you will likely be told to let the illness run its course and treat the symptoms the sickness is throwing at you.

The biggest hurdle in battling food poisoning is dehydration.  Diarrhea and vomiting are serious symptoms in foodborne illness.  They can cause your body to lose essential fluids and electrolytes.  These electrolytes serve major purposes from controlling how much water is in your body to keeping your heartbeat at a normal rhythm.

Try to keep yourself or your loved one hydrated and supplement with electrolyte rich products if necessary.  Drink plenty of water to replenish the minerals and electrolytes lost.

It is probably best to avoid food for the first few hours of symptoms to allow the stomach to settle down a bit.  After that try drinking a little bit of broth and then move onto bland and non-fatty foods like toast, crackers, or rice.

Avoid foods that are harsh on the stomach such as spicy and fatty foods, fizzy or bubbly drinks, alcohol, caffeine, and dairy.

Diarrhea is your friend.  Do not take over-the-counter medications to stop the diarrheal symptoms.  This is your body’s way to help you rid yourself of whatever is making you sick.  It is a necessary inconvenience.  Soon the illness will run its course and you will be back to normal.

When Should I Seek Medical Attention?

Even if you or your loved one has already seen a health care provider and they recommended you ride out the illness without treatment, you may still need to reach out again if certain symptoms change or worsen.

Extreme Dehydration: Extreme dehydration is a serious matter.  If you are experiencing dry mouth, extreme thirst, reduced urination or concentrated urine, you are likely severely dehydrated.  Other symptoms may include confusion, dizziness, weakness, rapid heartbeat, and/or low blood pressure.

Signs of Blood: If you see blood in your poop or vomit there could be additional complications arising from your illness.  Seek medical attention and notify your doctor of this new symptom.

Extreme Symptoms: Some extreme symptoms warrant reaching out to your doctor.  Fever over 101.5 ºF, vomiting that will not stop to allow you to keep liquids down, and diarrhea for more than 3 days.  Other symptoms such as blurry vision, extreme stomach cramps, tingling of the arms and weakness of the muscles.

Higher Risk Groups:  If you fall into certain higher risk groups you should seek medical attention immediately.  People in these higher risk groups often experience more serious symptoms and additional complications.

  • Pregnant women
  • Weakened immune system or chronic illness
  • Adults over 60 years old
  • Babies and young children

Look out for recalls and outbreaks you or a loved one may be victim of and seek consultation if necessary.  MakeFoodSafe.com is a great resource of outbreak information and recalls and can help you make informed decisions for yourself and your family.

By: Heather Van Tassell, Contributing Writer (Non-Lawyer)