If you’ve ever been diagnosed with food poisoning, you know how uncomfortable it can be. While it is a common illness that affects about 76 million people a year, if a severe case is left untreated it can result in hospitalization and even, on rare occasions, death. That’s why it’s important to know what food poisoning is and how to deal with it if you or a loved one is affected.

Food poisoning is a general term that can be used to describe hundreds of different ailments that you can catch from what you eat. It can be caused by a virus, bacteria, or even harmful chemicals in your food. Depending on what specific type you have, the symptoms of food poisoning will vary. Common symptoms include nausea, vomiting, severe stomach pain, and diarrhea. More serious symptoms include bloody stools, fever, chills, and dehydration. The symptoms will start within 48 hours of eating contaminated food.

While most people think of food poisoning as being absolutely terrible, there’s actually a good chance you’ve had it before and didn’t even know it. Since it generally goes away on its own within about 24 to 48 hours, it is often mistaken for the stomach flu. In serious cases, however, the symptoms are much more severe and only go away with treatment.

Generally, the treatment for food poisoning is simply to wait it out. As with any stomach illness, it is important to keep hydrated by drinking plenty of water. If you can keep them down, it is a good idea to try taking anti-diarrhea and anti-nausea medication to slow down the loss of fluids, but putting fluids back in is more important. While it will likely be a hassle and make you feel sicker, you should continually drink water or other beverages that won’t cause stomach discomfort.

If you are too sick to keep hydrated, you may need to go to a hospital. There they can give you medication to keep you from losing more fluids, along with IV fluids to keep you hydrated. Depending on the type of food poisoning you have, they may be able to give you antibiotics or other medication to fight the infection, but the normal treatment is to let the sickness run its course. If you do need to go to the hospital, be sure to keep your follow-up appointments and complete your entire treatment.

The most important thing to know about food poisoning is how to avoid it. By taking a few simple steps, you can avoid a whole lot of pain and aggravation.

* Be sure to get your refrigerated and frozen food home from the store quickly, especially meats and fish. Your refrigerator and freezer should be kept at 40 degrees and 0 degrees respectively.

* Use or freeze food and leftovers within a few days. Don’t ever eat food past its expiry date.

* Always heat food to 165 degrees when cooking. Get a meat thermometer to make sure you reach the proper temperature.

* Be sure to keep meat, poultry, and fish separate from other foods (and use a separate cutting board), and always clean up thoroughly after cooking them.

* Always wash raw food before you eat it so you can remove any contaminants.

Knowing what food poisoning is, how to prevent it, and what to do if you have it, are all important for keeping your family as healthy as possible.

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