Food poisoning (also known as foodborne illness and colloquially referred to as ptomaine poisoning) is an illness resulting from the consumption of contaminated food. Food poisoning is an extremely common illness in the United States, using FoodNet data from 1996-1998, the Centers for Disease Control estimated there were 76 million foodborne illnesses (26,000 cases for 100,000 inhabitants): 325,000 were hospitalized (111 per 100,000 inhabitants); and around 5,000 people died (1.7 per 100,000 inhabitants). Major pathogens from food borne illness in the United States cost upwards of US $35 billion in medical costs and lost productivity (1997).
There are two types of food poisoning: food infection and food intoxication. Food infection refers to the presence of bacteria or other microbes which infect the body after consumption. Food intoxication refers to the ingestion of toxins contained within the food, including bacterially produced exotoxins, which can occur even when the microbe that produced the toxin is no longer present or able to cause infection. The major cause of food poisoning is contaminated food, either taken outside or brought into the home (very rarely does home-cooked food result in this illness) very often caused by the failure to check the expiry date of perishable food items like milk products, bread, baked goods, meat, fish, and canned foods, etc. In spite of the common term food poisoning, most cases are caused by a variety of pathogenic bacteria, viruses, prions or parasites that contaminate food, rather than chemical or natural toxins.
The symptoms of food poisoning may last from a few hours to days. It may cause or evoke worsening of other diseases like arthritis and may affect the kidney and lungs. It also weakens the immune system. Major food poisoning symptoms include severe pain in the abdomen, unconsciousness, vomiting, body pain, fever, and diarrhea. Clients may also experience severe inflammation while releasing stool. Blood and mucus may appear in the stool. With continuous vomiting, the client experiences dehydration and severe body pain.
Clients suffering from food poisoning require immediate treatment. Given below are several effective home remedies.
Ginger: Ginger is the best home remedy for the treatment of food poisoning, and is in fact known to Ayurveda as “the king of medicines’ (raj oushadi). Take a small piece of ginger root and make it into a paste by mixing with buttermilk. Take this 2-3 times a day. Ginger extract can also be taken along with lemon juice to provide fast relief from vomiting, nausea, etc. Take equal amounts (2-3 tablespoon) of ginger and lemon extract, adding a pinch of freshly ground black pepper, and take this mixture 3-4 times a day. Clients suffering from food poisoning should also be given ginger tea. This quickly stops vomiting.
Papaya: Papaya is quite useful for food poisoning treatment. Take a raw papaya, grate it or cut it into small cubes. Take a glass of water and add the prepared papaya to it. Allow this to boil for 15-20 minutes, then drain the mixture and drink it. Take this mixture 2-3 times a day.
Cumin (jeera) seeds: Take equal amounts (10-15 seeds) of cumin and fenugreek (methi) seeds and powder them. Add the resulting powder in a glass of water. Drink the mixture. This provides considerable relief from vomiting and abdominal pain. This powder can also be taken with a half cup of fresh curd.
Basil (tulsi) leaves: Take 2-3 tablespoon of basal leaf extract, mix it in a half cup of fresh curd. Add a small amount of black salt and black pepper to it. Take this 3-4 times a day. This gives rapid relief from vomiting, weakness, and body pain.
Giving warm water to the client immediately after vomiting is often of great help. This will sooth the stomach and provides relief from abdominal pain. Also gently rub the stomach, or put a warm towel or cotton cloth over the stomach for a period of time, which will reduce abdominal pain.
There are a number of practices that, if rigorously observed, can reduce or eliminate the chances of developing a case of food poisoning. These include:
1. Keep the utensils, plates, napkins, and knives, etc., clean. Do not use rusted utensils.
2. Cutting boards should be of good quality and washed thoroughly after each use.
3. Take special care while cleaning the refrigerator. Also see that the temperature of the freezer and other sections are set at appropriate levels.
4. Always eat fresh, well-cooked food. If food is left over, keep it in the refrigerator, and heat it thoroughly before eating.
5. Never keep food at room temperature for more than 2-3 hours.
6. Do not preserve milk products, cakes, breads etc., for more than a day.
7. Check the manufacturing and expiry date of any food substance before purchase.
8. Check the integrity of the seal on canned food. Do not purchase dented or crushed cans, nor cans whose lids are bulging (indicating the presence of gas released by trapped bacteria).
9. Cook meats and seafood at appropriate temperatures, at which all the germs that may be present are killed. Also preserve these food items at appropriate temperatures inside a refrigerator.
10. Always wash hands before cooking, serving, or eating food.
11. If any utensil is used for preparing non-vegetarian or other perishable food items, do not use it for any other food item without properly cleaning it beforehand.
12. Do not use oil which is left after cooking food for the purpose of preparing another food item, as harmful chemical reactions can take place in the oil between heatings.
13. When dining out, make certain the food served is fresh, healthy, and cooked in a hygienic manner. Familiarity with a restaurant as being hygienically trustworthy is a good policy to avoid food poisoning.
By following these simple observances, most (if not all) cases of food poisoning can be avoided.
Article provided by William Courson, BVSA, Dpl. Ayur., C.H. an Ayurvedic Practitioner, faculty member and the College Dean of Institutional Development at Sai Ayurvedic College & Ayurvedic Wellness Center.