Food poisoning – What is it all about?

17 November, 2017

Eating is, for most of us, fun and pleasurable and this is how it always should be. Unfortunately, sometimes we can be put at risk of food poisoning by poor quality products, incorrect handling, bad procedures or cross-contamination. What causes food poisoning? What are the symptoms? How dangerous for our health can it be, and what are the treatments? I will try to answer these questions to help you protect yourself in the future.

Food poisoning is illness caused by eating contaminated food with viruses (norovirus), bacteria ( E.coli, Salmonella, Listeria), toxins ( pesticides), parasites or chemicals. Contamination can occur on any level of production, processing or cooking by not reaching the right cooking temperature, bad storing, letting the food stay warm for a long time, using expired products or poor hygiene of the handler.

In the UK food poisoning is a fairly common condition – around 1 million cases reported annually. In most cases symptoms are noticed within 1 -2 days from eating contaminated products but sometimes can show up already after only a couple of hours.

The most common symptoms of food poisoning are:

  • abdominal cramps
  • diarrhoea
  • vomiting
  • loss of appetite
  • mild fever
  • weakness
  • nausea
  • headaches

The majority of people recover at home after few days but it is highly recommended to see the GP if the symptoms are severe, or not improving, or you are in a risk group (the elderly, babies and young kids, pregnant women).

It is very important to stay hydrated at all times and eat, starting with small portions, non-fatty food. You should also avoid alcohol, caffeine, fizzy drinks and dairy products.

Have you ever wondered what the difference is between food poisoning and stomach flu? There is actually none. Stomach flu is a more specific term defining a type of viral poisoning caused most commonly by norovirus. The symptoms and treatment are the same. However, the name is used to describe non-food-related infections which can be caught by direct or indirect mouth contact with an infected person or surface.

In most of the professional kitchens, the risk of food poisoning is taken very seriously. Customers should be able to entrust chefs, not only to create a good meal but also with their health and wellbeing. For this reason, we monitor temperatures of the fridges as well as cooked and reheated food. We clean frequently all the surfaces with antibacterial sanitisers and wash hands with specialised soap. I encourage my chefs to always use gloves when preparing meat or fish to minimize the risk of cross-contamination. There are plenty of organisations and companies helping us to provide the highest standards of hygiene and protect our customers. There is also an international system, called HACCP  (Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Point) designed to deliver food safety.

Even in the cleanest kitchen food might go off sometimes. To catch it as soon as possible it is important to use all your senses. Different colour of food is the first sign that some unwanted process is going on. Slimy liquid outside, repulsive smell and taste is the signal that food should land in the bin rather than on the plate.  We are constantly tasting (now you know where the big belly is coming from 🙂 )to serve highest quality food.

Whenever you choose a restaurant, pay attention to how clean the place is. It can be the sign of how clean the kitchen is.  Don’t be afraid to say if in your opinion the food tastes or smells weird.  You have the right to ask and if you have misfortune to suffer from food poisoning, contact the restaurant instantly. They should always help you and advise what to do next. You can also contact the government health organisation who will further investigate. We all should take part in making a dining safe and enjoyable!