Food poisoning can be defined as any illness caused by consumption of foods contaminated by natural or chemical toxins, pathogenic bacteria, parasites and viruses. Improper preparation or storage of foods can lead to food contamination, and food poisoning.

Some chemicals can contaminate foods and lead to foodborne illness. Some of these chemicals are artificial (medicines or pesticides), whereas others are naturally toxic, (such substances can be found in certain types of fish and mushrooms.)

Bacteria are the most common causes of food poisoning. In such cases, the symptoms will probably be delayed and they will start once the bacteria multiply. In most cases, the symptoms will start one or two days after consuming contaminated food.

Here are  the most common bacterial pathogens that contaminate foods:

Clostridium perfringens
Campylobacter jejuni
Salmonella spp
Staphylococcus aureus
Bacillus cereus
Vibrio cholerae
Escherichia coli
Staphylococcal enteritis
Brucella spp
Vibrio vulnificus
Shigella spp.
Coxiella burnetii
Yersinia enterocolitica
Vibrio parahaemolyticus
Listeria monocytogenes

What Are the Symptoms of Food Poisoning?

The symptoms may vary, depending on the contamination sources. In most cases, food poisoning causes:

• Vomiting
• Nausea
• Abdominal pain
• Watery diarrhea
• Abdominal cramps

• Fever

The symptoms can start several hours after consuming the contaminated food. In some people, the symptoms can start several days later.

The severity of symptoms will depend on the cause of food poisoning. Most symptoms will stop after several days. However, it is important to know when to contact your doctor.

*If you start having any of the following symptoms, contact your doctor:

– Blood in vomit
– Frequent vomiting
– Extreme pain in the abdomen
– Severe cramps
– Blood in stools
– Severe diarrhea that lasts longer than 3 days
– Temperature higher than 38.6 C (101.5 F)
– Dehydration symptoms, like mouth dryness, excessive thirst, severe weakness, lightheadedness, dizziness, no urination
– Difficulty swallowing
– Extreme muscle weakness
– Double vision

What You Can Do to Prevent Food Poisoning

• Don’t eat undercooked or raw eggs or meat.

• Before you buy meat or any product that contains meat, check the expiration date first.

• Dairy products, meat and eggs have to be thoroughly cooked.

• Don’t keep raw meat near other foods

• If you are in a restaurant, and you get an undercooked meal, don’t eat it! Send it back and ask for a new one.

• Use hot water and antibacterial soap to wash your hands, knives, cutting boards and eating utensils, after handling poultry, raw meat, eggs and seafood. Although wooden cutting boards seem to be quite popular, it will be better not to use these, because they are difficult to clean. Even if a cutting board appears clean, it can have a lot of bacteria all over it.

• Don’t buy unpasteurized milk or any other products that are made from it.

• Don’t leave meat, eggs, seafood, milk or poultry at room temperature. Keep the leftovers in the refrigerator.

• Raw fruits and vegetables must be washed before cooking them. If you eat them raw, you need to wash them thoroughly.

• Drink pasteurized juices. Juice concentrates are safe, as well as commercial juices that have extended shelf life.

• If you have diarrhea, nausea, or vomiting, don’t prepare meals for other people. Avoid physical contacts with foods for infants and old people (they are more vulnerable to infections).

• After handling animals, wash your hands thoroughly.

• Hard cheeses, cottage cheese, yogurt and processed cheeses are safer than soft cheeses (camembert, brie, feta, etc)