Food poisoning: what it is, symptoms and prevention

In recent years, alimentary safety has become increasingly relevant. Food poisoning can appear both in a domestic and in a professional environment, so it is essential to know the causes and apply some preventive measures. Food poisoning is increasingly in the spotlight, which is why legislation on these issues has also become stricter.

What is food poisoning? 

A food poisoning, or food toxicoinfection, are diseases caused by the intake of some contaminated food or water. These can be contaminated by different types of microorganisms, bacteria or parasites, among other causes.

Contamination of the food

Food can be contaminated in different moments, under different circumstances and by a wide variety of elements. Some of the most common infections are often these: 

  • Vegetables can be contaminated by different elements of the land, such as fertilizers, animal stool, or even irrigation water. Clean it up with clean water If we are in front of fresh food. This is one of the critical straps where the food can be contaminated.
  • Meat is also a potential source of contamination. Some animals may have bacteria that are not harmful to them but are extremely harmful to humans. A clear example is Salmonella, a bacterium found in poultry and which can be found in eggs, causing symptoms If the cooking process isn’t carried out in a proper way. 
  • Other fresh products such as oysters or clams can be delicate and easily contaminated.
  • Unpasteurised milk or juice are also a food that can be a source of infection if not handled correctly, and bacteria such as Listeria can occur. 

But first and foremost it is important to pay close attention to the handling of these foods. Improper handing, or failure to follow basic hygiene protocols, can be dangerous, whether at home or in professional environments. 

Washing hands, and the kitchen tools, before manipulating every different food, is a very simple gesture that helps to have proper handling. 

Water contamination

Water can be another big focus of disease if it’s contaminated. This happens when you drink contaminated water.  These can be bottled, from wells or irrigators, for example. 

There are a lot of factors to explain the contamination of water. Normally microorganisms used to live outside of water, in dry areas, but on some occasions, they can cross to some wet areas, and survive for a long period of time. Also, water becomes unfit for human consumption in natural disasters, such as tsunamis or earthquakes.
When water is contaminated, whether for direct or indirect consumption, such as ice cubes or water used for cooking. Is highly probable to cause poisoning. 

Symptoms of a food poisoning

The symptoms of food poisoning may occur just in a few hours after the ingestion of the infected food, or on occasions after several days, depending on the intoxication type, and the cause.  

The most common symptoms are: 

  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhoea
  • Abdominal pain and cramps
  • Fever

Those symptoms usually last from a few hours to several days. It’s recommended to find medical attention If the symptoms become more severe and appear in characteristics as: 

  • Vomiting or bloody stools
  • Inability to keep fluids down
  • Severe abdominal cramps
  • Signs of dehydration: excessive thirst, absence of urine weakness and dizziness. 
  • Blurred vision, muscle weakness or tingling in the arms. 

Some risk factors

Food poisoning can appear in a more aggressive or kind way, or even not cause any symptoms, depending on the person. 

  • Old People. With the years, the immune system weakens and isn’t as strong against external agents, that’s why older people are more prone to contracting these types of infections.
  • Pregnant women. During pregnancy the body suffers lots of alterations. Such as, a change in metabolism that causes it to be weaker and increases the risk of food borne illness. 
  • Babies and young children. The Immune system of babies and young children isn’t completely developed, which makes it weaker. Therefore, they are more affected by bacteria or viruses. 
  • People with chronic diseases. Chronic diseases such as HIV, diabetes or hepatitis, drastically reduce the immune system.

Prevention of food poisoning 

Prevention, and following some basic rules of hygiene, are basic elements to avoid the transmission and propagation of poisoning. 

  • Being careful with delicate foods such as raw meat and fish or seafood. 
  • Wash hands before cooking and eating. If soap and water aren’t available, it’s recommended to use hydroalcoholic solutions. 
  • Cooking food at the right temperature. 
  • Conserve the food at the right temperature and during the period established by the distributor. 
  • Do not drink untreated water or milk and juice unpasteurized.
  • Being aware about the risk of traveling to other countries. 

Laboratory testing 

To determine food poisoning, and what have been the causes, a clinical diagnosis must be made. For it, the affected person’s symptoms are documented, its duration, the food ingested and the habits realized such as travel to specific geographic areas.

Most food-related illnesses tend to self-resolve, it’s our own body that is capable of getting rid of the pathology in a few days, but in cases where it’s more severe it’s necessary to request laboratory tests: 

  • When symptoms worsen and persist for days.
  • When it’s suspected that the intoxication is part of an outbreak affecting part of the population.
  • It’s suspected that the cause is parasitic.  

It’s important to make samples of the food and water ingested, so that the source of contamination can be determined, especially if there are indications of an epidemiological outbreak. These analyses will help determine which stains of microorganisms can cause intoxication.

In case it’s determined that it may be food poisoning, both laboratories and physicians have the obligation to inform the authorities, in order to identify the origin and prevent outbreaks.

It’s usual to collect all the evidence, such as tool samples or microorganism samples for complete studies, as well as molecular tests in case of suspicion of bacterial cause. The centralization of all this information allows the comparison of data to determine if there is a relationship between different intoxicated groups. 

To avoid all these pathologies, food legislation it’s becoming stricter, demanding control systems and other self-control systems from food distributors, all with the aim of meeting the established quality criteria. 

In CALITEC laboratories we are experts in quality consultancy, as well as in food quality control analytics.  

Detection of the SARS-CoV-2 virus. CALITEC performs the detection of the SARS-CoV-2 virus on surfaces by RT-PCR. We are at your disposal for this or another consultation. Contact us through the form.
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