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Food Poisoning and Safe Food Handling - Topic Overview

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Call your doctor if you think you may have a serious illness. You may need to see your doctor if your diarrhea or vomiting is very bad or if you don't start to get better after a few days.

If you do go to the doctor, he or she will ask you about your symptoms (diarrhea, feeling sick to your stomach, or throwing up), ask about your health in general, and do a physical exam. Your doctor will ask about where you have been eating and whether anyone who ate the same foods is also sick. Sometimes the doctor will take stool or blood samples and have them tested.

In most cases, food poisoning goes away on its own in 2 to 3 days. All you need to do is rest and get plenty of fluids to prevent dehydration from diarrhea. Drink a cup of water or rehydration drink (such as Pedialyte) each time you have a large, loose stool. Soda and fruit juices have too much sugar and shouldn't be used to rehydrate. Doctors recommend trying to eat normally as soon as possible. When you can eat without vomiting, try to eat the kind of foods you usually do. But try to stay away from foods that are high in fat or sugar.

Antibiotics usually aren't used to treat food poisoning. Medicines that stop diarrhea (antidiarrheals) can be helpful, but they should not be given to infants or young children. You shouldn't take antidiarrheals if you have a high fever or have blood in the diarrhea, because they can make your illness worse.

If you think you are severely dehydrated, you may need to go to the hospital.

You can prevent most cases of food poisoning with these simple steps:

  • Clean. Wash your hands often and always before you touch food. Keep your knives, cutting boards, and counters clean. You can wash them with hot, soapy water, or put items in the dishwasher and use a disinfectant on your counter. Wash fresh fruits and vegetables.
  • Separate. Keep germs from raw meat from getting on fruits, vegetables, and other foods. Put cooked meat on a clean platter, not back on the one that held the raw meat.
  • Cook. Make sure that meat, chicken, fish, and eggs are fully cooked.
  • Chill. Refrigerate leftovers right away. Don't leave cut fruits and vegetables at room temperature for a long time.
  • When in doubt, throw it out. If you aren't sure if a food is safe, don't eat it.

Learning about food poisoning and safe food handling:

Being diagnosed:

Getting treatment:

Taking care of yourself:

WebMD Medical Reference from Healthwise

Last Updated: October 18, 2012
This information is not intended to replace the advice of a doctor. Healthwise disclaims any liability for the decisions you make based on this information.
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