How to reduce your risk and what to do when you have food poisoning

Food poisoning, sometimes called foodborne illness, is caused by consuming contaminated food or beverages. It affects approximately 4.1 million Australians each year.

Types of food poisoning

The most common types of food poisoning are:

Bacteria: by far the most common cause of food poisoning, for example, E. coli, listeria and salmonella.

Viral: occurs as a result of coming in contact with someone who is already infected, sharing their food or touching a surface which has already been infected and then touching your mouth.

Toxins: the least common cause. It can be natural (such as those found in some mushrooms and pufferfish) or chemical (such as pesticides or melamine)

Read this article on some of the most common bugs that cause food poisoning.

It’s important to remember that some of these bugs can also be transferred from person-to-person, with or without symptoms, via contaminated surfaces or eating contaminated food. The symptoms can be the same, even if food is not involved.

While we tend to always blame the last thing we ate when we get sick, it could sometimes be eating contaminated food from several days or weeks ago, or in the case of listeria, months.

What are the symptoms of food poisoning?

Food poisoning symptoms can vary depending on the source of the infection. However, you will usually experience some or all of the following symptoms:

  • Stomach pain or cramps
  • Diarrhoea
  • Vomiting
  • Nausea
  • Headaches
  • Weakness
  • Lethargy (extreme tiredness)
  • Loss of appetite
  • Sweating, fever or chills

What can cause food poisoning?

Food can become contaminated when:

  • Food isn’t prepared safely, for example when hands aren’t washed
  • Food isn’t cooked thoroughly
  • Food is touched by someone who is ill
  • Raw meat and ready to eat food (such as salads) come into contact with each other
  • Food is stored at unsafe temperatures, which allows bacteria to grow
  • Cross contamination occurs. This occurs when bacteria is spread between food, surfaces, utensils and equipment

How to prevent or reduce your risk of food poisoning

Follow these simple food safety tips to minimise your risk of food poisoning:

  • Put any food that needs to be kept cold in the fridge straight away
  • Wash your hands in warm, soapy water and dry them thoroughly before food preparation, or before you starting eating
  • Keep your kitchen benches, equipment and tableware clean and dry
  • Separate raw and cooked food and use different cutting boards and knives for both
  • Cook foods to at least 60oC, hotter for specific foods
  • Reheat foods to at least 60oC and they're steaming hot
  • Follow storage and cooking instructions
  • Cover all food with a lid or plastic wrap
  • Don't leave food in opened tin cans
  • Be allergy aware

Check the Department of Primary Industries, Food Authority website for other tips and resources.

What’s bad to eat when you have food poisoning

To prevent your stomach from getting more upset, try to avoid the following:

  • Dairy products, such as milk and cheese
  • Fatty or fried food
  • Food with high sugar-content
  • Spicy food
  • Products that contain caffeine, such as soda, energy drinks and coffee
  • Alcohol

What’s good to eat when you have food poisoning

Ease back to your regular diet by eating simple-to-digest foods that are low in fat, such as:

  • Saltine crackers
  • Bananas
  • Rice
  • Oatmeal
  • Chicken broth
  • Potatoes
  • Boiled vegetables
  • Toast
  • Soda without caffeine, for example ginger ale or root beer
  • Diluted fruit juices
Breakfast Oats

What to do if you have food poisoning

If you’re showing food poisoning symptoms:

  • Drink plenty of water to avoid dehydration
  • Drink plenty of water or fluids with electrolytes. Sports drinks contain electrolytes and will help prevent dehydration
  • Where possible, do not handle or prepare food for others until you are symptom free for at least 48 hours. This will prevent you from infecting others
  • If you must handle food, wash your hands thoroughly with soap and warm water and dry

Most cases of food poisoning don’t require medical attention. It’s best to stay home, rest and drink plenty of fluids. Please consult your doctor if:

  • Food poisoning symptoms persist for more than 3 days or are very severe
  • You’re not able to keep fluids down for more than a day
  • Symptoms include blood or mucus in the vomit or diarrhoea
  • Elderly and young children should seek immediate medical attention

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