Food poisoning happens when there is inflammation of the stomach and/or intestines caused by eating contaminated foods. Usually symptoms present themselves within 2-24 hours after eating. Depending on the severity, sufferers of food poisoning may also experience fever and chills, bloody stools, and dehydration. Although food poisoning is usually a common and mild illness, it can sometimes be deadly, especially in children.
Infectious Bacteria are to Blame
Food poisoning is usually due to either toxic agents or infectious agents. Toxic agents are pesticides on fruits and vegetables, improperly prepared exotic foods (such as shellfish), or poisonous mushrooms.
Most food poisoning cases in Malaysia, however, are caused by eating food contaminated with infectious agents. This means that the food contains harmful viruses, bacteria, and parasites, which releases poison that causes inflammation of the intestinal lining. E. coli, Salmonella, Shigella and Staphylococci are common infectious bacteria that cause food poisoning.
Hygiene Keeps Contamination at Bay
Poor sanitation and improper food preparation are usually to blame for food contamination. Food handlers should practise personal hygiene and ensure the food preparation area is clean. Food should also be properly stored and kept at appropriate temperatures. Make it a habit to practise the good food preparation tips below:
- Prepare food with care
- Wash all fruits and vegetables thoroughly.
- Do not prepare foods with bare hands if you have wounds.
- For raw and cooked foods, separate utensils (knives/ cutting boards) should be used.
- Defrost foods completely before cooking. Thaw food under clean running water.
- Cook foods (meat, poultry, egg and seafood) thoroughly.
- Reheat cooked food thoroughly. Bring foods like soups and stews to boil.
- Serve food well
- Serve cooked foods as soon as possible in clean crockery.
- Never leave cooked food at room temperature for more than two hours.
- Store food properly
- Separate raw food from cooked food in different packages when storing them in the refrigerator.
- Avoid giving leftover cooked food that has been prepared more than two days ago.
When to See the Doctor
Food poisoning should not be taken lightly as severe diarrhoea and vomiting can cause dehydration, which is very dangerous especially if it happens in young children. Consult a doctor if your child :
- Experiences symptoms at a very young age (2 years and below)
- Has nausea, vomiting, or diarrhoea lasting for more than two days.
- Experiences fever, chills, or bloody stools.
- Cannot keep any liquids down.
- Has other immune-related disease or illness.
- Has slurred speech, muscle weakness, double vision, or difficulty swallowing.
Managing Food Poisoning
If your child is suffering from mild food poisoning, in which he experiences short episodes of vomiting and minimal diarrhoea, symptoms will usually go away on its own in two to three days. You can help your child feel better by trying these home care tips:
- Do not feed him solid food until he stops vomiting.
- Offer him water frequently in small amounts to prevent dehydration.
- Once vomiting has stopped, slowly reintroduce easy-to-digest foods (porridge, bread, banana).
- Do not give over-the-counter medicines to stop the diarrhoea.
- Check what your child has eaten over the past 24 hours.
- If in any doubt, seek medical help early.