What exactly causes one to suffer food poisoning?
Food poisoning is illness caused by eating contaminated food. Infectious organisms form the most common cause of food poisoning. These organisms or their toxins can contaminate food at any point of production processing, transportation, cooking, serving or eating. The common pathogens causing food poisoning are bacteria like salmonella, shigella, viruses like Norswalk like virus, hepatitis A, protozoa like amoebiasis, Giardiasis, parasites including tape worm, round worm. Bacteria like Clostridium cause severe food poisoning due to release of toxin. Few cases can occur due to chemicals like pesticides, heavy metals like lead, cadmium or food allergies.
Food poisoning symptoms, include nausea, vomiting diarrhea, and or abdominal cramps. Fever may be present, particularly in bacterial infections. Most often, food poisoning is mild and resolves with just oral rehydration or even without treatment. But severe cases with severe dehydration or severe abdominal pain do need hospitalisation. The sickness due to food poisoning can last from few hours to days.
The risk of contamination and subsequent food poisoning of food is greater with raw, uncooked food. Milk and meat products carry greater risk of being contaminated. Refrigerating food makes it safe. But if the food is contaminated prior to refrigeration, thawing it can activate microbes present, causing food poisoning.
People with weak immune system like small children, elderly, those with HIV/AIDS, malnutrition, e.t.c. suffer from more severe forms of food poisoning.
Prevention of food poisoning consists of giving due attention to food hygiene. During preparation of food, it should be cleaned thoroughly. Food handlers should keep good personal hygiene. Anybody with a diarrheal disease currently or in recent past should be kept away from handling food. Good hand washing after visiting the toilette and before cooking, serving or eating food is a very useful measure to prevent food poisoning The food items should be cooked thoroughly before consumption. The vessels used for cooking, serving or eating food should also be very clean, otherwise they can become a source of infection of food.
Dr Rachna Pande is a specialist in internal medicine at Ruhengeri Hospital