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Food-borne illnesses can be severely debilitating-Dr KK Aggarwal (Padma Shri awardee)

New Delhi.As per estimates, about 600 million cases of food-borne diseases occur annually worldwide. This translates into 1 in 10 people falling ill after eating contaminated food. Food-borne diseases impede socio-economic development by straining health care systems and harming national economies, tourism and trade. The need of the hour is to raise awareness on food safety, hygiene and sanitation at an individual level as well.

Food is the starting point for energy, health and well-being. In an increasingly complex and interconnected world where food value chains are growing longer, standards and regulations are important in keeping people safe. Access to sufficient amounts of safe and nutritious food is key to sustaining life and promoting good health.

Food-borne illnesses or food poisoning usually occurs due to eating food that is contaminated with bacteria or their toxins. Virus and parasites can also be cause food poisoning. People have known for long that raw meat, poultry and eggs can also harbor diseases causing microbes. However, recently, most food-borne illnesses have resulted due to fresh fruits and vegetables. Apart from abdominal pain, nausea, headache, fatigue, vomiting, and diarrhea, this condition can cause severe dehydration. Symptoms may appear several hours to several days after eating tainted food.”

Anyone can get food poisoning. However, certain groups are more at risk. This includes anyone with a suppressed immune system or an auto-immune disease, pregnant women, elderly individuals, and children. All these are categories of people with a weaker immunity and therefore, easily susceptible. It is important to differentiate poisoning due to preformed toxins or due to live organisms. While the first one will present within 6 hours and will have predominant vomiting the later will have predominant diarrhea and will present later.  Both may be self-limiting requiring no antibiotics.

Pathogens can be found on almost all the food that humans eat. However, heat from cooking usually kills pathogens on food before it reaches our plate. Foods eaten raw are common sources of food poisoning because they don’t go through the cooking process.

Although the symptoms of food poisoning settle and disappear in about 48 hours, the following tips can help in coping with the condition.

  • Let your stomach settle. Stop eating and drinking for a few hours.
  • Try sucking on ice chips or taking small sips of water. When you’re urinating normally and your urine is clear and not dark, this means the body is hydrated enough.
  • Ease back into eating. Gradually begin to eat bland, low-fat, easy-to-digest foods, such as crackers, toast, bananas and rice. Stop eating if your nausea returns.
  • Avoid certain foods and substances until you’re feeling better. These include dairy products, caffeine, alcohol, nicotine, and fatty or highly seasoned foods.
  • Rest. The illness and dehydration can weaken and tire you.
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