Stomach flu and food poisoning are different ailments with different causes. However, many people confuse the two because the symptoms are so similar. Most people who get food poisoning attribute their symptoms of nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, and stomach pain to a sudden case of stomach flu, and vice versa.
Stomach flu is usually caused by a viral infection in the digestive system, hence the medical name, viral gastroenteritis. To prevent stomach flu, you must avoid contact with the virus, which is not usually easy to do.
Food poisoning is usually caused by a poison (toxin) from bacteria that grow in food which is not handled or stored properly. Bacteria can grow rapidly when certain foods, especially meats, dairy products, and sauces, are not handled properly during preparation or are kept at temperatures between 40° and 140°. The bacteria produce a poison (toxin) that causes an acute inflammation in the intestines.
Suspect food poisoning when symptoms shared by others who ate the same food, or after eating unrefrigerated foods. Symptoms of food poisoning my begin as soon as one or two hours or as long as 48 hours after eating. Nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea may last from 12 to 48 hours for common food poisoning.
Botulism is a rare but often fatal type of food poisoning. It is generally caused by improper home canning methods for low-acid foods like beans and corn. Bacteria that survive the canning process may grow and produce toxin in the jar. Symptoms include blurred or double vision, muscle weakness, and headache.
To prevent food poisoning:
- Don’t eat meats, dressing, salads, or other foods that have been kept for more than two hours between 40° and 140°.
- Be especially careful with large cooked meats like your holiday turkey, which require a long time to cool. Thick part of the meat may stay over 40° long enough to avoid bacteria to grow.
- Use a thermometer to check your refrigerator. It should be between 34° and 140°.
- Defrost meats in the refrigerator or by microwaving, not on the kitchen counter.
- Wash your hands, cutting boards, and counter tops frequently. After handling raw meats, especially chicken, wash your hands and utensils before preparing other foods.
- The USDA recommends you reheat meats to 165° to destroy any bacteria. Even then, the toxin may not be destroyed.
- Cook hamburger well done. Cook chicken until the juices run clear.
- Cover meats and poultry during microwave cooking to heat the surface of the meat.
- Do not eat raw eggs or uncooked meats. Eat salad bar and deli items before they get warm.
- Discard any cans or jars with bulging lids or leaks.
- Follow home canning and freezing instructions carefully. Contact your County Agricultural Extension office for advice.
Viral stomach flu will usually go away within one to two days. Good home treatment can speed recovery. Please follow the link ahead for complete information about How to Treat Stomach Flu by Home Treatment.
When to call a health Professional
- If vomiting lasts longer than one day in an adult.
- If severe diarrhea (large loose stools every one to two hours) lasts longer than two days in an adult.
- If signs of severe dehydration develop.
- If you suspect food poisoning from a canned food or have symptoms of botulism (blurred or double vision, difficulty swallowing or breathing). If you still have it, take a food sample with you for testing.
- Healthwise for Life. Fifth Edition book, by Healthwise publication. Pages 88-89.
- Healthwise Handbook. Thirteenth Edition, by Healthwise publication. Pages 83-85.
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