Exploring the nuts and bolts of food poisoning

By Jane Babirye
On 11 November 2023 at 08:52

I may not know what your ‘memorable’ meme is, but I know you ‘liked’ it because you could relate with it. Recently, I came to a realisation that memes are not mere jokes, instead, they hold a lot of meaning hidden behind the fun; just the actual meaning of; “ there’s some bit of truth behind every I’m just kidding”.

Now the same applies to proverbs, especially African proverbs. A few weeks back, a colleague complained that they had ‘food poisoning’ and I jokingly made fun of them forgetting the African proverb; “ Those who have not crossed the river yet, should not laugh at those who are drowning”.

In other words, I forgot that I survived because of food and that one day, I may be faced with the same. Long story short, I’m currently recovering from food poisoning. Wondering if I enjoyed it, the answer is NO, hence this write up.

The nitty-gritty of food poisoning

Simply put, food poisoning is an ‘unwelcome’ guest that invades your body after consuming contaminated food or beverages. The National Health Service (NHS) defines it as “an illness caused by eating contaminated food”.


Food poisoning is a collection of Gastrointestinal illnesses brought about by harmful pathogens like;

Bacterias such as; Salmonella, E. coli, and Campylobacter. These bacteria can proliferate in undercooked or contaminated food and cause illness when ingested.

Viruses like Norovirus and Hepatitis A when they contaminate food can also lead to foodborne illnesses. The contamination is mainly a result of poor hygiene and unsanitary food handling practices or eating uncooked cooked seafood or not properly washed fruits and vegetables

Similarly, parasites like Giardia and Cryptosporidium contaminate water sources or food leading to intestinal distress (food poisoning) when ingested.

Furthermore, some foods produce toxins when they’re not stored or prepared correctly, leading to food poisoning. These include aflatoxins in mouldy peanuts and staphylococcal toxins in improperly handled dairy products.


The symptoms of food poisoning can vary depending on the causative agent,They typically appear within hours to a few days after consuming contaminated food or beverages and can last from a few hours to several days. Common signs include;

Nausea and Vomiting: The first signs of food poisoning often involve queasiness and an overwhelming urge to vomit.

Loose, watery stools (diarrhoea) are also a common symptom, and they can be persistent and uncomfortable.

Victims of food poisoning also experience abdominal pain in the form of Cramps and discomfort.

Sometimes, food poisoning can cause a low-grade fever, adding to the discomfort. This may be accompanied with muscle aches, headache, body weakness, and fatigue.


If you do find yourself face to face with food poisoning, remember to do some of the following;

Hydration: Dehydration is a significant risk with food poisoning due to fluid loss from vomiting and diarrhoea. It is crucial to drink plenty of fluids, such as water, oral rehydration solutions, and clear broths, to stay hydrated.

Rest: Resting and giving your digestive system time to recover is essential. Avoid solid foods initially and gradually get on to ‘the BRAT diet’: that is; easily digestible items like bananas, rice, applesauce, and toast.

Over-the-counter medications like loperamide (Imodium) can help control diarrhoea. However, these should be used with caution and only as directed by a healthcare professional, as they may not be suitable for all cases of food poisoning.

Additionally, in some cases, antibiotics may be prescribed, especially if a bacterial infection is confirmed.

In cases of severe and persistent symptoms (high fever, bloody stool or signs of dehydration), it’s important to consult a healthcare provider.

Most importantly, the age-old adage "prevention is better than cure" rings true in the context of food poisoning. Simple practices can go a long way in steering clear of this unpleasant experience.

Regularly washing hands, utensils, and surfaces serves as a fundamental defense against foodborne illnesses. Furthermore, adhering to recommended cooking temperatures and promptly refrigerating perishable items are crucial steps in ensuring food safety. Steering clear of raw eggs, undercooked meat, and unpasteurized dairy products is highly advisable to minimize the risk of contamination.

Equally significant is the practice of storing raw and cooked foods separately. This, coupled with the precaution of using separate cutting boards for different types of food, helps prevent cross-contamination, a common culprit in foodborne outbreaks.

In the broader scope of food safety, consumers are urged to stay informed about food recalls and exercise caution by avoiding the consumption of products that have been recalled. By incorporating these preventive measures into everyday habits, individuals can significantly reduce the likelihood of encountering food poisoning and contribute to a healthier, safer dining experience.