5 Misconceptions about food poisoning every parent should be aware of
Reasons for the increase in contamination in food and food poisoning:
- Cooked food is stored for excessively long periods at room temperature
- Stored food is reheated to a temperature which is insufficient to kill bacteria, leading to food poisoning
- Cooked food is stored in an unsuitable environment due to a lack of space, leading to contamination
- Food handlers may overlook food storage and preparation protocols due to the large volume of orders (resource and manpower limitations)
- Excessively long time between food preparation and delivery to the customer
- Using the same cutting board or knife for both raw and cooked food
- When raw meat is stored next to fruits and vegetables or cooked food, resulting in contamination
- When ingredients are washed with contaminated water or come into contact with contaminated utensils
- The kitchen may be contaminated with pests e.g. rats, cockroaches that spread illnesses
- When food handlers fail to practice good personal hygiene, they may transfer bacteria from the toilet onto the food
- Food handlers who are sick and inadvertently contaminate the food during preparation.
How to tell if you or your child is suffering from food poisoning
Dr Wee from Singapore, cautions that parents should look out for signs of food poisoning, which typically starts with abdominal cramps and pain, fever, nausea, vomiting and diarrhoea. In some cases, there may even be blood in the stool.
Vomiting can be so severe that one is even unable to consume liquids. A combination of severe vomiting and profuse diarrhoea can result in rapid dehydration, lethargy and giddiness with fainting spells.
This is a full scope of the symptoms:
- Severe pain in the tummy
- High fever
- Recurrent vomiting (persistent vomiting for more than a day)
- Unable to even retain liquids
- Presence of blood in the stools
- Features of severe dehydration such as a dry mouth with decreased urination and giddiness spells.
- Feeling confused
- Feeling breathless or having palpitations of the heart.
What to do if your child is facing food poisoning
Besides visiting a doctor, you should also take these steps for yourself or your child if either of you are suffering from food poisoning.
1. Stay hydrated. Take small sips of water frequently. Isotonic sports drinks with electrolytes or porridge water are better than drinking plain water alone.
2. Watch what you eat. Avoid spicy food which contains chilli. Also, avoid dairy products such as milk as it can cause diarrhoea. Coffee and tea which have caffeine can aggravate gastric pain.
3. Avoid over eating. Bloating is a common complaint. Do not worry if you are unable to finish a meal. Consuming small meals are perfectly fine. The aim is to have some nutrition without vomiting. Focus more on drinking enough fluids.
4. Have ample rest. Avoid engaging in vigorous activities, which may stress your body, or lead to perspiration and further dehydration.
How to avoid food poisoning
Hand hygiene is very important when young children are around. Children are often exposed to viral infections at childcare centres and schools. These infections can spread by contact.
If a child is ill with a diarrhoeal illness, a caregiver who is preparing meals also needs to ensure that his or her hands are washed properly before cooking. Additional precautions to take include the following:
- Serve cooked food to young children. Avoid giving them foods which are raw, unless you are sure about the hygiene standards (e.g. sushi, salads)
- Consume food within 2 hours of cooking
- Chill leftovers to less than 4 degrees, keep for less than 3-4 days, and reheat properly before serving to children.
Foods with higher risk of contamination
According to the National Environment Agency, foods such as meats, seafood and eggs are at higher risk of contamination if not cooked thoroughly.
Raw fish or shellfish may harbour viruses, bacteria or parasites. Undercooked poultry such as chicken, duck and turkey can be contaminated with the bacteria Campylobacter and Salmonella. Salmonella can also contaminate eggshells and the inside of an egg.
Raw vegetables and fruits have an increased risk of contamination as compared to cooked foods. Bacteria such as E.coli can be present in raw vegetables. Wash salads properly and keep separate from meats.
Don’t store leftovers at room temperature for more than 2 hours. Place it into the refrigerator once cool. Keep food in the refrigerator for only 3 to 4 days. In these situations, you should ensure that the food is properly reheated before consumption.
If the food does not taste or smell right, it is best to discard it. Ensure that your fridge has a temperature below 4 degrees Celsius. Bacteria proliferates if the temperature is any higher. Avoid re-freezing thawed foods, as bacteria can grow rapidly at room temperature.
Also Read: 6 top Foods to feed your child with a fever