What is food poisoning?

Food Poisoning

Food poisoning in children: Overview

Food poisoning occurs when you eat foods that contain harmful germs. Food can be contaminated while it is growing, during processing, or when it is prepared. Fresh fruits and vegetables also can be contaminated if they are washed in contaminated water. Your child may have become ill after eating undercooked meat or eggs or other unsafe foods. Cooking foods thoroughly and storing them properly can help prevent food poisoning.

There are many types of food poisoning. Your child's symptoms depend on the type of food poisoning they have. Your child will probably begin to feel better in a few days. In the meantime, make sure your child gets plenty of rest, and make sure that they do not become dehydrated.

Food poisoning

Food poisoning is an illness caused by eating foods that have harmful germs in them, like bacteria, parasites, and viruses.

These germs are mostly found in raw meat, chicken, fish, and eggs, but they can spread to any type of food. They can also grow on food that is left out on counters or outdoors or is stored too long before you eat it.

Sometimes food poisoning happens when people don't wash their hands before they touch food.

Most of the time, food poisoning is mild and goes away after a few days. But some types of food poisoning may be more serious, and you may need to see a doctor.

What happens when you have food poisoning?

You may become ill with food poisoning after you eat food that contains bacteria, viruses, or other harmful germs.

After you eat a contaminated food, you may notice symptoms after a few hours or days. The harmful germs pass through the stomach into the intestine and start to multiply. Some organisms stay in the intestine. Some produce a toxin that is absorbed into the bloodstream. And others infect body tissues. Your symptoms depend on the type of germ that has infected you.

Diarrhea and vomiting are a normal response as the body tries to rid itself of harmful germs.

Most of the time, food poisoning is mild and passes in a few days. But the symptoms of some types of food poisoning may be more severe. In rare cases, food poisoning can cause kidney or joint damage.

What are the symptoms of food poisoning?

The first symptom of food poisoning is usually diarrhea. You may also feel sick to your stomach, vomit, or have stomach cramps. Some food poisoning can cause a high fever and blood in your stool.

If you vomit or have diarrhea a lot, you can get dehydrated. This means that your body has lost too much fluid.

Some types of food poisoning have different or more severe symptoms. These can include weakness, numbness, confusion, or tingling of the face, hands, and feet.

How you feel when you have food poisoning mostly depends on how healthy you are and what germ is making you sick.

For very young and very old people, symptoms may last longer. Even the types of food poisoning that are typically mild can be life-threatening. This may also be true for people who are pregnant or who have weak immune systems, such as those who have long-lasting (chronic) illnesses.

How is food poisoning treated?

Treatment for food poisoning focuses on managing symptoms, such as vomiting and diarrhea. You'll need to rest and get plenty of fluids to prevent dehydration. The goal of treatment is to replace fluids and electrolytes lost through vomiting and diarrhea.

If dehydration is severe and can't be managed at home, you may need treatment in the hospital. Fluids and electrolytes may be given to you through a needle in your vein.

Medicines that stop diarrhea (such as Imodium) can help with your symptoms. But these medicines shouldn't be used for children or for people with a high fever or bloody diarrhea. Antibiotics are rarely used. They're only given for certain types of food poisoning or in severe cases.

In most cases, food poisoning goes away on its own in a few days.

How can you prevent food poisoning?

You can prevent most cases of food poisoning with simple steps. For example, wash your hands before touching foods. Separate raw meat from other foods, and make sure meats are cooked well. Refrigerate leftovers right away.

How is food poisoning diagnosed?

Most people don't go to the doctor to get diagnosed. That's because most food poisoning is mild and goes away after a few days. You can usually assume that you have food poisoning if others who ate the same food also got sick.

If you go to the doctor, you'll be asked about your symptoms and health and get a physical exam. Your doctor will ask where you've been eating and whether anyone who ate the same foods is also sick. Sometimes the doctor will take stool or blood samples to be tested.

If you think you have food poisoning, call your local health department to report it. This could help keep others from getting sick.

How can you care for your child who has food poisoning?

  • Give your child lots of fluids a little at a time. This is very important if your child is vomiting or has diarrhea. Give your child sips of water, Pedialyte, or Infalyte. These drinks contain a mix of salt, sugar, and minerals. You can buy them at drugstores or grocery stores. Give these drinks as long as your child is throwing up or has diarrhea. Do not use them as a sole source of liquids or food for more than 24 hours.
  • Watch for and treat signs of dehydration, which means that the body has lost too much water. Your child's mouth may feel very dry. Your child may have sunken eyes with few tears when crying. Your child may lack energy and want to be held a lot. Your child may not urinate as often as usual.
  • Start offering small amounts of food when your child feels like eating again.
  • Wash your hands after changing diapers and before you touch food. Have your child wash hands after using the toilet and before eating.
  • Do not give your child over-the-counter antidiarrhea or upset-stomach medicines without talking to your doctor first. Do not give Pepto-Bismol or other medicines that contain salicylates, a form of aspirin, or aspirin. Aspirin has been linked to Reye syndrome, a serious illness.
  • Have your child take medicines exactly as prescribed. Call your doctor if you think your child is having a problem with a medicine.

To prevent food poisoning

  • Keep hot foods hot and cold foods cold.
  • Do not let your child eat meats, dressings, salads, or other foods that have been kept at room temperature for more than 2 hours.
  • Use a thermometer to check your refrigerator. It should be between 34°F and 40°F.
  • Defrost meats in the refrigerator or microwave, not on the kitchen counter.
  • Keep your hands and your kitchen clean. Wash your hands, cutting boards, and countertops with hot, soapy water.
  • If you use the same cutting board for chopping vegetables and preparing raw meat, be sure to wash the cutting board with hot, soapy water between each use.
  • Cook meat until it is well done.
  • Do not let your child eat raw eggs or uncooked dough or sauces made with raw eggs.
  • Do not take chances. If you think food looks or tastes spoiled, throw it out.

What causes food poisoning?

Food poisoning is caused by eating or drinking food contaminated by harmful germs, such as bacteria, parasites, and viruses.

Germs can get into food:

When meat is processed.

Bacteria live in the intestines of healthy animals used for food. Sometimes the bacteria get mixed up with the parts of those animals that we eat.

When food is watered or washed.

If the water that's used to irrigate or wash fresh fruits and vegetables has germs from animal manure or human sewage in it, those germs can get on the fruits and vegetables.

When food is prepared.

When there are germs on the hands of someone who touches the food, or if the food touches other food that has germs on it, the germs can spread. Germs from raw meat can get onto vegetables if you use the same cutting board for both, for example. Home-canned foods that haven't been prepared properly may contain germs.

What is food poisoning?

Food poisoning is an illness caused by eating foods that have harmful germs in them. They're mostly found in raw meat, chicken, fish, and eggs, but germs can spread to any type of food. Sometimes food poisoning happens when food is left sitting out or when people touch food without washing their hands.

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The content above contains general health information provided by Healthwise, Incorporated, and reviewed by its medical experts. This content should not replace the advice of your healthcare provider. Not all treatments or services described are offered as services by us. For recommended treatments, please consult your healthcare provider.

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