October 16, 2018

What Happens if You Have a Foodborne Illness?

The Iowa Department of Public Health has a great video that explains what you should do if you suspect you have a foodborne illness.

Foodborne illness is food poisoning. It occurs when you eat food that contains bacteria, viruses, parasites, toxins, or chemicals that can make you sick. Symptoms include nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, abdominal pain, stomach cramps, loss of appetite, fatigue, and fever. But remember that other diseases can cause these symptoms too. See your doctor for a diagnosis.

Most foodborne illness symptoms don’t appear until 6-24 hours after eating. Some symptoms take 3-4 days to manifest. Many people do not know that most foodborne illnesses are not caused by the last meal you ate.

See your doctor if you experience frequent episodes of vomiting that lasts for two days, if you vomit blood, can’t keep liquids down, have diarrhea that lasts for more than one day, are dehydrated, are experiencing severe pain or cramping, and/or have a fever of 101.5 or higher.

If you suspect you have a foodborne illness, ask your doctor to take a stool sample. This may identify the bacteria or virus that may be the cause of your illness. Samples can help identify an outbreak early on, so authorities can take action and fewer people become ill.

Bacteria will be sent to a state lab for DNA fingerprinting. Bacteria have unique DNA. The lab will compare the DNA of the bacteria in your sample to others to see if an outbreak has occurred. A public health investigation will be launched if a connection is suspected with a grocery store, restaurant, marketplace, or other licensed establishment.

If there is any leftover suspected food, keep it in the fridge and mark “do not eat.” DON’T freeze it. It may be needed for testing if an outbreak exists.

When an outbreak has been identified and if the bacteria that caused your illness is connected, you’ll be asked questions about the foods you’ve eaten in the past week, along with questions about animal contact and water or beverages you’ve consumed. The interview usually takes about 30 minutes. Sometimes a written questionnaire is used instead.

If the illness is linked to a licensed food establishment, an inspection will be conducted there. Inspectors will take samples from the food and equipment to see if the same bacteria that caused your illness is found in that establishment. The establishment may be closed for several days for sanitizing, and will be re-inspected before opening.

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