Food poisoning: Emergency first aid

Food contaminated with germs, such as bacteria, can cause food poisoning. What are the symptoms of food poisoning and how can it be treated?

What is it?

What is food poisoning? 

Food poisoning is a gastro-intestinal illness caused by eating foods that are poisonous or contaminated with bacteria or other germs.

There are basically two types of food poisoning: foodborne intoxication and foodborne infection.

  • In the case of foodborne intoxication, the toxin is already in the food.
  • In contrast, a foodborne infection occurs when microorganisms enter the body by eating food and then either produce toxins or cause an infection on their own.

If the toxins are already in the food, the symptoms usually occur sooner than when the microorganisms first start producing the toxins inside the body or cause the infection.

What are the symptoms?

How do I recognise food poisoning? 

Food poisoning has the following symptoms:

  • Stomach pain, abdominal cramps
  • Diarrhoea
  • Nausea, vomiting
  • Profuse sweating, fever

These symptoms often occur as soon as one to a few hours after the toxin has been consumed. Often, other people who have eaten the same food will have the same symptoms.

What should you do?

What should I do if I get food poisoning?

If you have food poisoning, the following will help:

  • Drink plenty of water and tea, because diarrhoea causes the body to lose a lot of fluid
  • Electrolyte solutions from the pharmacy or foods like pretzel sticks or crackers can help to restore the body’s sodium balance
  • Bed rest and adequate sleep

When should I see a doctor?

It is recommended to see a doctor if you have symptoms such as fever or bloody diarrhoea lasting more than two or three days, or in the case of babies, small children, pregnant women, elderly people or people with compromised immune systems.