Food poisoning is illness caused by eating contaminated food. Infectious organisms such as bacteria, viruses and parasites or their toxins are the most common causes of food poisoning.
Contamination of food can happen at any point during its production: growing, harvesting, processing, storing, shipping or preparing. Cross-contamination — the transfer of harmful organisms from one surface to another — is often the cause. Cross-contamination is especially troublesome for raw, ready-to-eat foods, such as salads or other produce. Because these foods are not cooked, harmful organisms are not destroyed before eating and can cause food poisoning.
Eating out in restaurants or from street vendors where food handling and hygienic practices are not followed properly is a common cause of food poisoning.
Food poisoning symptoms can start within hours of eating contaminated food. Symptoms vary with the source of contamination. Most types of food poisoning cause one or more of the following signs and symptoms:
The most common serious complication of food poisoning is dehydration — a severe loss of water and essential salts and minerals. If you’re a healthy adult and drink enough to replace fluids you lose from vomiting and diarrhea, dehydration shouldn’t be a problem.
Infants, older adults and people with suppressed immune systems or chronic illnesses may become severely dehydrated when they lose more fluids than they can replace. In that case, they may need to be hospitalized and receive intravenous fluids. In extreme cases, dehydration can be fatal.
First aid and home remedies
To prevent food poisoning at home:
When to seek medical attention
Sickness caused by food poisoning generally lasts from a few hours to several days. Most often, food poisoning is mild and resolves without treatment. But some people need to go to the hospital.
If you experience any of the following signs or symptoms, seek medical attention:
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