Finger foods on a holiday buffet

Think before you eat: Preventing food poisoning

You’re mother always cooks up quite the holiday spread, including three different types of meat, potato salad and deviled eggs. The delicious food sits out for hours as family grazes and gossips. While you pile food on your plate, beware of the potentials of food poisoning.

Food poisoning symptoms vary with the source of contamination. Most types of food poisoning cause one or more of the following signs and symptoms:

  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Watery diarrhea
  • Abdominal pain and cramps
  • Fever

To avoid these symptoms, food shouldn’t be left out for longer than two hours, said Elizabeth Atkinson, MD, Spartanburg Regional Healthcare System emergency physician.

“Around the holidays, people leave foods out for too long, such as meat and dairy, or cross contaminate with spoons in different foods,” Dr. Atkinson said. “You can still get sick if the food is left out for a long time and put back into the refrigerator. Reheating food is always important. Even if the bacteria is in the food, heating it up can kill it.”

Often times, people with food poisoning claim, “Well my brother ate the same thing as I did, and he didn’t get sick.” However, the illness is about the bacteria growth on the food, rather than the food itself.

“Food poisoning isn’t the mayonnaise, it’s the bacteria growing on the mayonnaise that isn’t distributed across the whole food,” Dr. Atkinson said.

What can I do if I have food poisoning?

Hydration is the key to feeling better when you have a stomach bug. If you are sick, drink small sips of clear fluids throughout the day.

“Most of the time with supportive care and lots of fluids, these illnesses will go away quickly,” Dr. Atkinson said. “Eating isn’t as important, because eating too soon will make you feel worse.”

Most food poisoning will go away with self-care. But if vomiting and diarrhea doesn’t stop, dangerous levels of dehydration can occur. This is when you need to call a doctor or go to the ER.

“If you are putting out more fluids than you are able to take in, or go several days without feeling better, you will want to see a doctor. A red flag is blood in diarrhea,” she said. “The emergency room can treat nausea and can limit vomiting with medication.”