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Baby illness

Food Poisoning 101

Food poisoning occurs when food or water contaminated with harmful germs (microbes), poisons (toxins) or chemicals is eaten or drunk.

Verified by:
iMumz Expert Panel
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Updated on:
September 30, 2022

About Food Poisoning

Food poisoning occurs when food or water contaminated with harmful germs (microbes), poisons (toxins) or chemicals is eaten or drunk.

Causes

Bacteria

  • Salmonella.
  • Escherichia coli (E. coli).
  • Listeria.
  • Shigella.
  • Clostridium perfringens.

Viruses

  • Rotavirus.

Parasites

  • Cryptosporidium.
  • Entamoeba histolytica.

Toxins and Chemicals

Toxins produced by bacteria can also contaminate food, as well as the bacteria themselves. For example, the bacterium Staphylococcus aureus can contaminate ice cream and its toxins can lead to food poisoning.

Water contamination can also contribute to food poisoning. Water can become contaminated with bacteria or other germs (microbes) when human or animal stools (faeces) get into the water supply.

The following precautions should be followed while preparing food:

  • Do not brush a child's teeth with tap water.
  • Avoid eating uncooked vegetables (as they may have been washed in contaminated water).Avoid drinking tap water.
  • Do not use ice cubes in drinks (as the ice may have been made from tap water).

For most cases of food poisoning, symptoms tend to come on within one to three days of eating the contaminated food. However, for some types of food poisoning, this incubation period can be as long as 90 days.

Symptoms

  • The main symptom is diarrhoea with vomiting. Diarrhoea is defined as 'loose or watery stools (faeces), usually at least three times in 24 hours. Blood or mucus can appear in the stools with some infections.
  • Crampy pains in your child's tummy (abdomen) are common. Pains may ease for a while each time some diarrhoea is passed.
  • A high temperature (fever), headache and aching limbs sometimes occur.
  • Diarrhoea and vomiting may cause dehydration. If you suspect your child may be becoming dehydrated then you should seek medical advice urgently. Children, especially young children, infants and babies, can become severely dehydrated and very ill very quickly. Mild dehydration is common and is usually easily reversed by drinking lots of fluids.

Diarrhoea and vomiting may cause dehydration. Children, especially young children, infants and babies, can become severely dehydrated and very ill very quickly. Mild dehydration is common and is usually easily reversed by drinking lots of fluids. Symptoms of dehydration in children include:

  • Scanty urination.
  • Dry mouth.
  • Whitish tongue and dry lips.
  • Fewer tears when crying.
  • Sunken eyes.
  • Weakness.
  • Irritable.
  • Having a lack of energy (being lethargic).If you suspect your child may be becoming dehydrated then you should seek medical advice urgently.

Prevention

  • Make sure that you cook food thoroughly, especially meat. This will kill germs (bacteria). Food should be well cooked.
  • Food that needs to be chilled or refrigerated should be. If food is left out of the fridge, bacteria may multiply to levels that can cause food poisoning.
  • Your fridge needs to be kept between 0°C and 5°C. Also, don't leave the door open unnecessarily.
  • Don't reheat food more than once.
  • Keep work surfaces and utensils clean.
  • Wash and dry hands regularly but especially after going to the toilet, before preparing food, after handling raw food and before touching ready-to-eat food.
  • Don't prepare food for others if you have diarrhoea or sickness (vomiting).Cover any sores or cuts on your hands with a waterproof plaster before you touch food.
  • Change dishcloths and tea towels regularly.
  • Cool leftover food quickly and then refrigerate.

Treatment

If symptoms are severe or persist for several days or more, a doctor may ask for a sample of the diarrhoea. This is sent to the laboratory to look for infecting germs (bacteria, parasites, etc). Sometimes an antibiotic medication or other treatments are needed, depending on the cause of the infection.

Paracetamol or ibuprofen is given by doctors to ease a high temperature (fever) or headache.