Summer Care: Prevent Food Poisoning

Don’t Let Food Poisoning Spoil Your Summer

Summertime means socially distanced cookouts, grilling, and eating outside. While everyone enjoys a tasty summer barbecue, there is an increased risk of getting food poisoning during the summer heat. Hot temperatures and food left out may cause an active growth of bacteria, making people sick. Therefore, it’s essential to keep your food safe and know when to seek medical care if you do get food poisoning.

By taking steps to slow and prevent the growth of dangerous bacteria, you may prevent food poisoning before it starts.

What is food poisoning?

Food poisoning (foodborne illness) is caused by bacteria or viruses found in food.

Millions of Americans get food poisoning each year.

Food poisoning symptoms often look like stomach flu (gastroenteritis). Many people with a mild case think they have stomach flu or a virus.

What causes food poisoning?

Most food poisoning is caused by eating food that has certain types of bacteria or viruses. When you eat these foods, the bacteria keeps growing in your digestive tract. This causes an infection.

Foods can also make you ill if they have a toxin or poison caused by bacteria growing in the food.

Several types of bacteria can cause food poisoning. Among the more common bacteria are:

  • Salmonella and Campylobacter
  • Clostridium perfringens
  • Listeria
  • Staphylococcus aureus
  • Escherichia coli (E. coli)
  • Clostridium botulinum

You can also get food poisoning from viral diseases such as Hepatitis A and norovirus.

These viral diseases:

  • Can pass from an infected person’s hands to the hands of food workers or into wastewater (sewage)
  • Can spread when shellfish and other foods have touched unsafe, dirty water

What are the symptoms of food poisoning?

Food poisoning symptoms can look like the symptoms of stomach flu (gastroenteritis). Many people with mild cases of food poisoning think they have stomach flu.

The time it takes food poisoning symptoms to start can vary. Illness often starts in about 1 to 3 days. Symptoms can start any time from 30 minutes to 3 weeks after eating contaminated food. The length of time depends on the type of bacteria or virus, causing the illness.

Each person’s symptoms may vary. Symptoms can range from very mild to very serious. They can last from a few hours to several days. Symptoms may include:

  • Belly cramps
  • Watery or bloody diarrhea
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Headache
  • Fever
  • Belly bloating and gas

Food poisoning symptoms may look like other health problems. Always see your healthcare provider to be sure.

What can I do to prevent food poisoning?

To prevent food poisoning, wash your hands often. Also, prepare and store food safely.

Always wash your hands after:

  • Using the toilet
  • Changing diapers
  • Smoking
  • Blowing your nose
  • Coughing or sneezing
  • Touching animals

When preparing food, be sure to:

  • Wash your hands for at least 20 seconds with warm soapy water before and after touching raw meat, poultry, shellfish, fish, eggs, or produce.
  • Wash all fruits and vegetables well before eating
  • Use plastic cutting boards for cutting raw fish, poultry, or meat. They are easier to keep clean.
  • All utensils and surfaces should be washed with warm soapy water before and after being used to prepare food. One quart of water mixed with one teaspoon of bleach can be used to sanitize surfaces and utensils.
  • Cook poultry, beef, and eggs for the right amount of time before eating
  • Keep raw meat, poultry, seafood, and their juices away from other foods
  • Use a meat thermometer to ensure foods are cooked to an appropriate internal temperature.

When choosing food to eat, be sure to:

  • Not have any food made from unpasteurized milk
  • Not have any food made from raw or undercooked eggs, poultry and meat

When storing food, be sure to:

  • Refrigerate or freeze raw and cooked perishable foods right away. If they are at room temperature for more than 2 hours, consider them unsafe to eat.
  • Refrigerators should be set at 40°F or below. Set freezers at 0°F.
  • Keep fruits and vegetables, cooked foods, and prepared foods away from raw meat and raw eggs
  • Refrigerate mayonnaise, salad dressings, and any foods that have them
  • Throw out food if you don’t know how long it’s been left out of the fridge
  • Throw out food if you’re not sure it is bad

Concerned you or a loved one may have food poisoning?

Call your primary care doctor or visit your local urgent care location. 

Your healthcare provider will ask you when you became sick, your symptoms, and what foods you have eaten.

Your provider will also look at your past health. He or she will give you a physical exam.

You may have lab tests to find out what bacteria caused your illness. In some cases, the cause can’t be found. Unless many people sit down to the same meal and all become ill, your provider will have a hard time diagnosing the foodborne illness.

How is food poisoning treated?

Most mild cases of food poisoning are treated the same as stomach flu (gastroenteritis). If you have diarrhea or vomiting, you may lose a lot of fluids (get dehydrated). The goal is to replace your lost fluids and ease your symptoms. You may also be prescribed anti-nausea medicine to prevent vomiting.

For some types of bacterial food poisoning, your healthcare provider may give you a medicine that fights bacteria (an antibiotic). Antibiotics don’t work on infections caused by a virus.

Seek emergency help if you or someone else can’t keep fluids down or symptoms are more severe.

If you need quick medical care that you and your family can rely on, find your nearest Southcoast urgent care location. We gladly accept walk-ins, so no appointment is needed.

The Southcoast Health Urgent Care is open to the public, and you do not need to have a Southcoast Physicians Group doctor to visit our urgent care clinic.

If your condition is an emergency, please call 911 or go to the nearest emergency room.