The incubation period of food poisoning depends on the pathogen and can thus last be between one hour and several days. The duration of symptoms is usually a few days, but again it depends on the pathogen, the amount consumed, and any drug treatment.

What is food poisoning?

Food poisoning occurs when a person ingests food or drink contaminated with a bacteria or toxin produced by bacteria, or, very rarely, by toxins from chemicals or pesticides.

It’s frequently associated with eating strange or questionable things like rotting food, toxic plants, or mushrooms, but it’s also tied to eating “infected” agricultural products (fertilizers, pesticides, and other weedkillers).

Even before dietary diversification, food poisoning can also develop in children, particularly babies, as a result of consuming contaminated water or infant milk or if the mother has eaten contaminated food while breastfeeding.

What are the causes of food poisoning

Food poisoning can result from the contamination of food before, during, or after preparation. Indeed, a person may have been ill when hygiene measures are not followed (e.g., the sick person handling food), when food is poorly washed, cooked, preserved, or stored.

Some foods may be more likely to be contaminated:

  • Raw or undercooked foods (poultry, meat and eggs)
  • Raw fruits and vegetables (not washed or washed with contaminated water)
  • Unpasteurized dairy products. Pasteurization is a technique for preserving food. It consists of heating food to a specific temperature for a specific period and cooling it quickly afterwards.
  • Unpasteurized apple juice or cider
  • Foods left unrefrigerated for a long time
  • Fish and prawns
  • Untreated water

Often the smell and appearance of the food are not changed even if it is contaminated, so be careful!

Particular attention must be paid to foods prepared during the summer! Some foods are more sensitive to heat and should not be eaten or drunk if they have been exposed to heat for too long. When the temperature is higher, bacteria reproduce faster.

Symptoms of food poisoning

Food poisoning generally follows the voluntary consumption of food or drink, for which the rules of hygiene or conservation have unfortunately not been respected.

Whether it is products contaminated during manufacture or at home by non-compliance with the cold chain or expiration dates, the culprits are bacteria, bacterial toxins, viruses, or parasites.

The symptoms of food poisoning such as:

  • Stomach aches
  • Diarrhea
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Sweating
  • Fever
  • Hallucinations
  • Blurred vision
  • Loss of consciousness.

How long does food poisoning last?

Food poisoning requires a medical consultation or a visit to the emergency room in the most serious cases, the most frequently encountered culprits being Salmonella and Campylobacter. The incubation period depends on the pathogen and can thus be between one hour and several days. The duration of symptoms is usually a few days, but again it depends on the pathogen, the amount consumed, and any drug treatment.

What to do in case of food poisoning

Food poisoning usually clears up on its own after a few days without treatment. Medication, on the other hand, can assist to reduce unpleasant side effects like diarrhea and vomiting. Antidiarrheal, antispasmodic, or antibiotics in the case of a serious bacterial infection, can be prescribed by your doctor.

To rehydrate, it’s also a good idea to drink water and salt solutions instead of solid foods.

Hospitalization may be required in some more extreme situations. This is especially true when the person affected is already vulnerable, such as the elderly or those who have a weakened immune system.

How to prevent food poisoning

Prevention requires hygiene and attention at all stages of the food chain, from production to food preparation.

The main precautionary principles:

  • check the expiration dates of foods.
  • do not break the cold chain.
  • keep hands and dishes clean.
  • follow the storage instructions indicated on the packaging.
  • throw away the rounded cans.
  • wrap each opened food or dish in an airtight manner in order to avoid cross-contamination.
  • do not use cracked eggs for consumption without cooking.
  • wash and disinfect your refrigerator once a month.
  • change or clean dishes, kitchen utensils and work surfaces between each preparation of raw food.
  • wash your hands before any preparation (use soap, hot water and a clean towel).
  • cover any wound with a waterproof bandage or wear a clean disposable rubber glove.

When shopping, buy frozen foods last and place them in a cooler bag. Avoid leaving your purchases in the car and immediately store perishables in the fridge.

Watch out for the refrigerator:

  • quickly close its doors.
  • never put hot or lukewarm food in it.
  • avoid overloading it to facilitate the circulation of cold air.
  • control its temperature: 0 °C to 4°C for fragile foodstuffs (meat, fish); 4 °C to 8 °C for the less fragile.

Also, pay attention to the freezer:

  • defrost it (the frost accumulated on the walls slows down cooling) and clean it thoroughly once a year.
  • only freeze very fresh foods, wrapped in food grade packaging, closed after expelling the air.
  • Close the packaging of products that you do not consume all at once.

Be vigilant in the event of a power failure.

  • If you have been warned in advance of a shut-off lasting several hours, press the fast freeze switch just before the shut-off, in order to lower the temperature as much as possible.
  • If the blackout exceeds 24 hours, thaw the products in the refrigerator and consume them within 24 hours. All products not consumed should be discarded.
Betsy Wilson

Betsy is a true science nerd, down to the glasses. Her words, not mine! She works as a nurse specializing in pediatric nursing. She holds a Master's degree from the University of Pennsylvania. She is passionate about all thing pregnancy and baby-related.