Food poisoning is any illness resulting from the intake of contaminated food. There are two types of food poisoning: poisoning due to an infectious agent or poisoning due to a toxic agent. Infectious agents are bacteria or other microbes, while the food intoxication refers to any illnesses resulting from eating food that contains toxins. Some of the toxins, like exotoxins, are excreted by a microorganism, including bacteria, fungi, algae and protozoa. Food poisoning is a common, usually mild, but in some rare cases a deadly illness.
Causes of food poisoning
Contamination of food can happen anytime during the production of food, from growing and harvesting, to processing, storing, shipping or preparing. Transfer of toxic and infectious agents from one surface to another is the common cause of food poisoning. Unprocessed and raw foods are especially dangerous, as their surfaces can sometimes host millions of bacteria. Bacterial contamination of meat usually occurs during the processing if animal feces contact meat surfaces. Unpasteurized milk and apple cider, alfalfa sprouts and contaminated water are among the most common sources of infection. Toxic agents are frequently found in poisonous mushrooms or improperly prepared exotic foods, such as barracuda, for example. Pesticides on fruits and vegetables are also toxic.
Symptoms of food poisoning
The first symptoms of food poisoning normally start after the incubation period. The incubation period may last anywhere from a couple of hours to a couple of days, depending on the agent and how much of it is consumed. Bacterial food poisoning usually manifests within 1 to 6 hours after eating the food. The long incubation period often causes patients to attribute their symptoms to stomach flu. Symptoms of food poisoning also vary with the source of contamination. The most frequent symptoms of food poisoning are nausea, vomiting, watery diarrhea, abdominal pain, stomach cramps, loss of appetite, fatigue and fever. The symptoms may range from mild to severe, and generally last for no longer than 10 days.
Warning symptoms of food poisoning include frequent vomiting for more than two days, vomiting blood, inability to keep liquids down for 24 hours, severe diarrhea that lasts more than three days, blood in the feces, extreme abdominal pain or severe cramping, body temperature higher than 101.5 F (38.6 C) or dehydration. Signs of dehydration are excessive thirst, dry mouth, little or no urination, severe weakness, dizziness or lightheadedness. If a patient experiences warning symptoms of food poisoning, he or she should contact a medical care professional.