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Foodborne disease: What could you catch from your food?

Foodborne disease is a worldwide concern, and it can affect anyone. Defined as an infection of the gastrointestinal tract, these illnesses are caused by the ingestion of contaminated foods containing bacteria.

“Foodborne disease is both preventable and treatable,” says Dr Salim Abed, a general practitioner at Mediclinic Highveld. “Symptoms are generally acute and recovery fairly rapid, although rarer forms can lead to more serious complications.”

While not all bacteria are necessarily ‘bad’, some can be. Raw foods and, to a lesser extent, fresh produce can be contaminated by already-present bacteria. There is also the danger of bacteria forming during the food preparation or reheating process.

“There are several food types that are prone to contamination,” says Abed. “While poultry, fish and shellfish are the most notable examples, the list extends to raw vegetables and fruits. Undercooked eggs also pose a potential risk, as does unpasteurised dairy and deli meats spoiled during processing and manufacturing.”

Other less frequent (non-bacterial) causes of foodborne illness include viruses, parasites and poisoning due to the mistaken consumption of inedible plants or berries.

Flu-like symptoms together with diarrhoea and vomiting are the most obvious signs of any foodborne disease. And while a patient will undoubtedly feel weak as a result, dehydration is the number one complication of such illness.

“Most food poisoning is mild and will resolve itself,” says Abed. “That said, ensuring adequate hydration is the most important aspect of treatment. Patients should be monitored for changes or improvement.”

The most commonly prescribed treatment may be diarrhoea medication but there are two schools of thought on this. Some medical professionals will not prescribe an anti-diarrhoeal as it may be better to have the bacteria/viruses expelled from the body with bowel motions and therefore shorten the infective period. Maintaining adequate hydration is the most important thing.

food-borne disease, food poisoning, food safety, food, infographic

In the interest of our patients, in accordance with SA law and our commitment to expertise, Mediclinic cannot subscribe to the practice of online diagnosis. Please consult a medical professional for specific medical advice. If you have any major concerns, please see your doctor for an assessment. If you have any cause for concern, your GP will be able to direct you to the appropriate specialists.