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Foodborne illness – causes, side effects and treatments at

Wednesday, March 28, 2018 by

Foodborne illness, also known as food poisoning, is a gastrointestinal condition brought on by the consumption of contaminated, toxic, or spoiled foods or beverages. Though uncomfortable and irritating, foodborne illnesses aren’t uncommon: in the United States alone, it’s believed that around 48 million people experience a type of foodborne illness each year.

According to, there are three main causes of foodborne illness:

  • Bacteria: These tiny organisms are behind most food poisoning cases. Bacteria can taint food at any stage (such as during harvesting, processing, or shipping) and can remain in food that hasn’t gone through adequate preparations (such as washing or cooking). There are many types foodborne-illness-causing bacteria, with some of the most common ones being Salmonella, Escherichia coli (E. coli), and Clostridium botulinum (C. botulinum).
  • Viruses: Viral foodborne illnesses can occur when one shares food with an infected individual or when coming into contact with food or water that has been contaminated with infected feces. Noroviruses, rotavirus, and adenovirus can all cause foodborne illnesses.
  • Parasites: Similar to viral foodborne illnesses, parasitic foodborne illnesses can happen as a result of contact with contaminated food or water. Foodborne illnesses caused by parasites are more uncommon than those brought on by viruses and bacteria. However, people from developing countries have a higher chance of acquiring foodborne illness caused by parasites.

Known side effects and risk factors of foodborne illness

Anybody can acquire a foodborne illness, but some groups are more vulnerable to its effects than others. Elderly people, children, pregnant women, and people whose immune systems are severely suppressed are at higher risk of infection. Moreover, these individuals have a greater chance of developing complications associated with foodborne illnesses.

Depending on the source of the infection, the symptoms of foodborne illness can manifest within an hour or take almost month to do so. In that event, a person who has been infected will show any or all of the following symptoms:

  • Abdominal pain
  • Diarrhea
  • Double vision
  • Dry mouth
  • Fever
  • Headaches
  • Jaundice
  • Nausea
  • Numbness
  • Vomiting

Body systems harmed by foodborne illness

The digestive system is most at risk when one acquires a foodborne illness. But there are cases where a foodborne illness worsens and leads to complications that impact other organs and organ systems. As per, some of these complications and affected organs include:

  • Dehydration: Persistent diarrhea can drain a person of fluids and throw their electrolytes off balance. Left untreated, dehydration can eventually cause blood pressure to drop and damage the kidneys.
  • Haemolytic uraemic syndrome: Children are the most prone to this condition, which is characterized by anemia and kidney failure.
  • Guillain-Barré syndrome: This is a rare disorder wherein the immune system attacks the peripheral nervous system, resulting in tingling, numbness, and weakness.

Food items or nutrients that may prevent foodborne illness

The prevention of foodborne illness calls for proper food preparation rather than the consumption of a particular food. That being said, there are a number of foods that one can consume to speed up recovery from foodborne illness.

The most popular and most widely eaten of these foods are bananas, rice, applesauce, and toast, otherwise known as the BRAT diet. All of these foods are bland and gentle on the stomach. Moreover, they’re generally low in fiber, which means that they can firm up stools and reduce the risk of diarrhea.

Egg whites, honey, and oatmeal are suitable as well due to their blandness. Ginger or ginger tea is highly recommended too, as ginger is known for soothing an upset stomach.

Eating yogurt is a must once the foodborne illness has passed. Not only will yogurt assist in the repopulation of healthy gut bacteria, but it will help the digestive and immune systems regain their normal functions.

Treatments, management plans for foodborne illness

A foodborne illness will typically resolve itself within the span of a few days. Barring the manifestation of severe symptoms (e.g. dehydration), no medical intervention will be necessary and home care will suffice. During this time, rest and hydration should be the priorities. Avoid fatty foods and caffeine as these can irritate the digestive tract. Over-the-counter medication to control diarrhea and inhibit nausea may be taken, but one should consult with a healthcare professional first before taking them.

To prevent a future case of foodborne illness, the following steps should be taken and always kept in mind:

  • Cook thoroughly: Foodborne illnesses can begin from meat, poultry, seafood, and eggs that haven’t been cooked properly. Heat will kill any bacteria and viruses lingering in these foods, so make it a point to always cook carefully.
  • Stay clean: Ensure that the kitchen and food-preparation areas are all sufficiently sanitized and free from pests. All equipment and surfaces utilized for food should be cleaned prior to and following every use. The same applies to hands, which must always be washed before and after food preparation.
  • Separate raw and prepared foods: Any kitchen equipment and utensils used for raw food should be utilized exclusively for these types of foods. Store cooked and raw foods in separate containers. This is to prevent cross-contamination.
  • Choose safe food and water: Opt for fresh foods and for safe water. Make sure to wash all fruits and vegetables, particularly if they’re going to be eaten raw. Never eat foods that have reached their expiry date.

Where to learn more


Foodborne illnesses are infectious gastrointestinal diseases that occur whenever a person eats or drinks spoiled, contaminated, or toxic foods or beverages. Vomiting, diarrhea, nausea, and fever are just some of the symptoms of foodborne illness. Though foodborne illnesses usually last no more than a few days, they can lead to more severe complications that damage other parts of the body.

Foodborne illnesses are preventable. The keys to avoiding them lie in cleanliness, proper food preparation, and meticulous food selection.

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