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Foodies Beware: Food Poisoning May Be on the Menu

If you're concerned about food poisoning, it might be best to eat in. At home, you directly control how your food is prepared. But that doesn’t mean you’re completely safe.  Every year, about one in six American get sick from foodborne illnesses.

"We lose almost all control in restaurants," says Russell Vinik, MD, an associate professor of internal medicine at University of Utah Health. "We don't know who is preparing our food and usually don't get to see the kitchen.” 

Vinik also points out that restaurants have good incentives to prevent food poisoning. They have obligations from the health department, in addition to their reputation. 


Protect Yourself from Food Poisoning with These Tips

This doesn't mean you have to stop supporting your local dining spots—just be careful. Food vendors of any kind must abide by state laws concerning the handling of ingredients, their cooking, and holding temperatures. 

"Most health departments have ratings and publish inspection dates and findings," Vinik says. "If there is a particular restaurant you are unsure of, you can look it up.”

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends following these tips when eating out:

  • Check the restaurant’s inspection score.
  • Make sure the food is thoroughly cooked. If your meat is undercooked, send it back.
  • Avoid lukewarm food. Hot food should be served hot and cold food should be served cold.
  • Refrigerate your leftovers within two hours and eat your leftovers within three to four days.
  • Report food poisoning to your local health department if you think you got sick from food.


Food Poisoning Symptoms

None of us is immune from illness if we eat contaminated food. But some people are at greater risk, including pregnant women, older adults, children younger than age 5, and those with chronic illnesses. These people are more likely to get sick and have more serious side effects from food poisoning.

Often, people think they have a "stomach flu" or virus, but it's actually a mild case of food poisoning. They've been exposed to a bacteria or virus when food is not handled properly.

A food-borne illness grows in the digestive tract after a person eats a contaminated meat or vegetable. The microbes continue to grow, causing an infection. Symptoms can include:

  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Abdominal pain
  • Nausea
  • Headache
  • Bloating and gas


When to See a Doctor

See a doctor immediately if you develop severe symptoms of food poisoning, such as:

  • Diarrhea and a fever higher than 102°F
  • Diarrhea for three days that’s not improving
  • Bloody diarrhea
  • Constant vomiting when liquids can’t be kept down
  • Dehydration, which can cause dry mouth and throat, feeling dizzy, and not urinating as much