The season for outdoor picnics, barbeques, and potlucks is upon us. While eating alfresco is a wonderful treat in the Portland summer months, hot weather and communal dining also come with the risk of food poisoning. Foodborne illness is the result of eating food that has been contaminated with bacteria, viruses, or other parasites. Food can get contaminated at any point during harvest, transportation, and preparation. The foods that are the highest risk for food poisoning are raw produce, unpasteurized dairy, and undercooked egg and meats.
While food poisoning is usually not serious, it is a very unpleasant experience. Food poisoning symptoms usually start within a few hours of exposure, although some organisms take days to weeks before symptoms start. Symptoms include nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, intestinal cramping, and fever. Food poisoning can be serious or life-threatening for pregnant women, older adults, immune-compromised individuals, and young children and infants.
Food Poisoning Prevention
Foodborne illness can be prevented by improving sanitation in food preparation and handling.
- Wash your hands with soap and water frequently, and always after using the bathroom, blowing your nose, or handling raw food.
- Wash food preparation tools and surfaces with soap and hot water frequently.
- Keep perishable foods refrigerated. Make sure perishable items are not left out for more than two hours.
- Defrost food in the fridge and cook immediately upon defrosting. Do not thaw food at room temperature.
- Separate raw meat from other foods. Use a different cutting board for raw meats and other food.
- Cook meat to the recommended internal temperatures [link https://www.foodsafety.gov/keep/charts/mintemp.html]. Cook prepared meats, like sausages and hot dogs, fully until steaming hot.
- If you’re unsure if the food was properly prepared or stored, it is best to throw it away rather than risk eating it.
What to do when you get food poisoning
- Fight dehydration by sipping water, herbal tea, and broth frequently. If you can’t sip water, suck on ice chips.
- Avoid solid foods until the vomiting has ceased.
- Call your acupuncturist for an herbal formula that will help with your food poisoning symptoms and duration. Some herbs can help fight the toxicity of the parasites and shorten the duration of your illness as well as reduce symptoms. A phone consultation with the ill person or a close family member would be needed to prescribe the correct herbs.
- Take activated charcoal because it helps bind the toxins that are produced by the parasites. Take as soon as nausea and vomiting begin and continue while acute symptoms are present.
- Apply peppermint oil externally to your abdomen.
- Call your doctor or seek urgent care if you have a fever over 100.4, extreme abdominal pain, signs of severe dehydration, inability to hold down liquids, inability to urinate, prolonged vomiting or diarrhea, blurry vision, muscle weakness, confusion, or tingling in the hands or feet.
After you have recovered from food poisoning:
- When you reintroduce foods, eat bland carbohydrate-rich food like rice or crackers, which are easy to digest. Avoid greasy, fatty foods.
- Avoid eating dairy for 2-4 weeks after food poisoning. You will likely be temporarily lactose intolerant after a foodborne illness. Your body needs time to regrow the cilia that produce the enzyme that breaks down lactose.
- Report cases of food poisoning to your local county. Your local agency tracks and investigates outbreaks. For Multnomah County, reports can be made by calling (503) 988-3400. More information can be found about the Multnomah county foodborne illness complaints here https://multco.us/health/staying-healthy/foodborne-illness-complaints.
- Even though acute nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea symptoms have resolved, your digestion may be off for a few weeks or more. Get acupuncture to help normalize digestion and support your post-acute recovery.