Whether you’re going out to eat at your favorite restaurant or staying home for the night to prepare your own delicious meal, food poisoning can become a real risk when proper safety precautions are not taken. You probably know the general rules for avoiding food poisoning — make sure your fresh meats and poultry are not expired, don’t cross-contaminate, and never allow foods to thaw on the countertop. But if you do start to feel ill after a meal, do you know what signs and symptoms to look for, and when these symptoms will begin? Do you know which foods are most likely to poison you over other ones? We’re sharing five things you probably don’t know about food poisoning, but definitely should.
5 Things Most People Don’t Know About Food Poisoning
1. Viruses, not bacteria, could be to blame
If you’ve spent your morning hunched over the toilet, you’re not alone — about 76 million cases of food poisoning occur in the U.S. every year, CNN says. While you may blame salmonella or other common bacteria, these microbes may not be what did you in. There are a variety of viruses you can get through food that can give you the same symptoms.
The same story said noroviruses, which often lead to nausea and vomiting, caused 58% of all food poisoning cases in 2011. These viruses have become the largest threat to food, especially when it comes to fresh fruits and veggies, which can become contaminated during packaging.
So, should you give up your favorite fruits, veggies, and meats because a viral infection may be lurking? Definitely not — the chance of getting food poisoning from a virus is still small. Always wash your fresh foods before eating.
2. You don’t have to eat contaminated food to get sick
It’s called food poisoning, so that means you have to eat food to get it, right? While this makes sense, food poisoning is actually an illness that can easily be spread from person to person. Once your friend is starting to feel ill, you’ll want to bring your hand sanitizer along with you, as you could get the same symptoms without ever touching any contaminated foods, says Deseret News.
Typically, it spreads through fecal matter. While this sounds disgusting, it happens easier than you think — you can touch something that a contaminated person has touched, then later eaten a sandwich without washing your hands. Germs can also be spread from animals in this same way. If you’ve been near animals, always wash your hands before touching your face or eating, as they may carry bacteria or viruses that can give you symptoms of food poisoning.
3. Watch out for poultry
Don’t be too quick to blame beef or pork, because chicken could be the real reason as to why you’re ill. NBC News says chicken and turkey were the main culprits behind foodborne illness outbreaks in 2006 and 2007, poultry still stands as one of the leading causes of poisoning.
Salmonella poisoning is common with poultry, but there’s more to the story. Certain viruses can hide inside of the tissue of turkey as well, which can cause food poisoning. Grilled chicken is known for being a food that commonly causes illness, and this could be from improper handling. Bacteria multiply very quickly when meats sit at any temperature above 40 degrees Fahrenheit, and this commonly occurs during barbecues when chicken is left to marinate before it’s cooked. Always take proper precautions when preparing raw poultry and make sure to cook it to a safe temperature before eating.
4. You can get Hepatitis A from food
You’re probably familiar with E. coli and salmonella, but did you know that you could be exposed to hepatitis A from food, too? FoodSafety.gov explains the hepatitis A virus, which is typically spread through contaminated food or water, causes this disease that affects the liver. Certain countries that don’t have clean water are more susceptible to this disease, which is why many opt for vaccines before traveling abroad.
You’re most likely to get hepatitis A if you’ve eaten raw or undercooked shellfish or from drinking contaminated water. You can also contract this disease through cooked foods if an infected person has handled them. Typically, this foodborne illness lasts between two weeks and three months, with infection symptoms not even starting until about 28 days after exposure. If you are planning a trip to an area where hepatitis A is common, get vaccinated.
5. Don’t take medication unless instructed by a doctor
Vomiting and diarrhea are the harsh realities that comes with food poisoning, and it’s understandable to want to stop these symptoms as soon as possible. Still, WebMD says that it’s important to understand these awful symptoms are your body’s way of flushing out the toxins that caused you to get sick in the first place. Taking over-the-counter meds to try to stop these symptoms may prevent you from getting better as quickly as possible.
Food poisoning symptoms can cause severe dehydration, however, so be wary of this. Make sure you’re drinking lots of fluids. If you find that you cannot keep any fluids down after a day or so, then it’s important to call your doctor. He or she may have to get you set up with an IV. Once you’re more hydrated, stick with clear liquids and avoid greasy food, caffeine, and sweets, as these can disrupt a tender stomach and cause the symptoms to return.