A foodborne illness refers to any pathogen consumed through food that then irritates the gastrointestinal tract and causes a variety of unpleasant symptoms like vomiting, diarrhea, stomach pain, fever and more. Foodborne illnesses are common throughout the world even in the West. Some viruses also cause sicknesses like hepatitis A and norovirus.
Most of these symptoms are due to the immune system’s reaction to the invading bacteria or virus. Although most foodborne illnesses are temporary and relatively minor, some can be severe and sometimes even life-threatening. Here is a brief overview of common foodborne illnesses and how to treat them.
The Common Ones
Bacteria cause the majority of foodborne illnesses. Common examples of foodborne illnesses include Shigella, Listeria, E. coli, and Salmonella. The most important aspect of preventing foodborne illness is regulating the temperature at which bacteria and viruses can survive, which is estimated by most specialists to be between 40-140 degrees Fahrenheit. Temperatures above or below these thresholds prevent pathogens’ growth. The presence of moisture, the right amount of warmth and the nutrients found in certain foods provide the breeding ground for bacteria and viruses. Foodborne illnesses are more common during the holidays, possibly because food is more commonly left out during these periods.
How to Treat Them
Most foodborne illnesses resolve on their own in a matter of days and do not require medical treatment. Over-the-counter medications designed to soothe the gastrointestinal tract, like Pepto Bismol and painkillers like Tylenol, can help alleviate symptoms until the pathogens are eliminated from the body. Also, keep an eye on body temperature. Anything over 104 degrees Fahrenheit warrants further action. In extreme cases, visiting the doctor or hospitalization may be necessary. Salmonella and E. coli usually cause more severe reactions than others.
Potential Long-Term Effects of Food Poisoning
Occasionally, individuals affected by foodborne pathogens may experience long-term effects. Following basic prevention practices, particularly the temperature rule of storing food between 40-140 degrees Fahrenheit, can prevent a potentially long-term negative cascade of adverse health events for yourself and your family. Long-term consequences from single instances of food poisoning have been documented by doctors and include kidney and brain damage and conditions associated with chronic inflammation, like arthritis.
When you are preparing a meal for your next get together, never gamble with your family’s health, especially when foodborne illnesses are usually easily preventable. Most packaged foods even contain instructions for storage and preparation, which can prevent pathogens from proliferating.
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