What you need to know about food poisoning

To avoid spreading disease-causing bacteria, use separate cutting boards. Photo/nutritiontips.club

What you need to know:

  • You are more likely to get food poisoning if you are not careful about how you store and handle food, and about what and where you eat or drink.

Food poisoning is common and most of us will recognise the scenario. You ate something that looked (or smelled) a little fishy, or took water that is not safe to drink. A few hours later you get a tummy ache, and you are being sick (vomiting) and running backwards and forwards to the toilet.

Jane Sylvia Migisha, a nutritionist, says food poisoning is a foodborne illness that is caused by eating contaminated, spoilt or toxic foods. 

“Foods get contaminated when diseases causing organisms such as parasites, bacteria and viruses as well as their toxins get in contact with it. Food contamination can happen when food is not handled well or when it is not cooked or half cooked. Therefore, contamination can happen at any stage of food preparation,” she explains.

When one consumes contaminated food, signs and symptoms of food poisoning can start manifesting within hours of consumption. Migisha says some of the common symptoms include nausea, bloody or watery diarrhoea, vomiting, fever, and abdominal cramps. 
“Life threatening symptoms include diarrhoea that lasts more than three days, fever higher than 38.9 degrees Celsius, difficulty seeing or speaking, severe dehydration and bloody urine,” she adds.
While these can be managed at home, at times, she says, the severe symptoms necessitate one to go to the hospital and sometimes, aadmission becomes inevitable.

Food contamination can happen at any point of production. For example, when growing the food when contaminated fertilisers are used, during harvesting when dirty harvest tools are used, during storage when food is kept in a dirty place, cooking when say meat is half cooked, serving when someone with unwashed hands serves food and eating on an unclean plate or with unwashed hands. 
Migisha says food contamination gets worse with foods that must be eaten raw such as fruits as there is no possibility of killing the organisms through cooking.
One serious complication of food poisoning is dehydration. 
“This is as a result of vomiting and diarrhoea, which cause severe loss of fluids and essential salts. Among adults, this can be countered through drinking to replace what is lost. However, among younger children and those with low immunity, food poisoning causes excessive dehydration than they can contain,” Kimbugwe shares.

Listeria infection
According to a research, listeria monocytogenes in raw milk from cattle and the factors influencing its occurrence in greater Luweero District, Uganda, Listeria monocytogenes is a psychrotolerant food-borne zoonotic bacterial pathogen. It survives heating and drying, hence creating food safety hazards. 
Complications owing to listeria infection are fatal to an unborn baby. In early pregnancy, it could lead to a miscarriage while in late pregnancy months, it can cause stillbirth or serious infections to the baby after birth.  If the baby survives, it may suffer long-lasting neurological damage and delayed growth. 
Escherichia coli (E. coli).
According to healthline.com, some E. coli strains may cause a fatal complication; haemolytic uremic syndrome (HUS) which causes damage to the glomerulus, a tiny blood vessels in the kidneys. At times, this could lead to kidney failure. 
“This is common among older persons and children below five years as these have weak immune systems. Among these, at the sight of bloody diarrhoea or that which does not subside, the patient must be taken to hospital as soon as possible,” Migisha says.

To avoid food poisoning in homes, Kimbugwe cautions: 
Wash hands and surfaces: It is important to wash your hands with soap and water before and after handling food. Surfaces such as cooktops and cutting boards must also be cleaned well to avoid cross-contamination.
Keep ready-to-eat foods from raw foods: These must be kept separately, even as you buy to avoid cross-contamination. 

Cook foods thoroughly: Foods should be cooked well to ensure that harmful bacteria are destroyed completely.
Defrost foods safely: It is a somewhat common practice for people to remove foods from the refrigerator to defrost. However, the healthy way is for the foods to be taken from the freezer to the less cold part of the refrigerator to defrost. Thereafter, that food must be cooked not re-frozen.

Also, refrigerate previously frozen purchases. That should be done within two hours of purchase.
Get rid of it: If you are uncertain of how well the food was prepared, served or stored, throw it out. For instance, food that has stayed at room temperature for long will likely get contaminated.
Foods to avoid
Seeing that food poisoning is rampant among those with compromised immunity, Migisha says they should stay away from or take extra caution regarding raw or undercooked fish and any other see food, unpasteurised dairy products and juices, raw or rare meat and poultry, raw or undercooked eggs, homemade ice cream, soft cheeses as well as luncheon and deli meats.

Persons prone to food poisoning
While anyone can suffer from food poisoning, Resty Kimbugwe, a nutritionist, says some people are more prone. These include infants and children, pregnant women, older people, and those with immune weakening ailments. Generally, people whose immunity is low will greatly suffer when they consume contaminated food.