By Kendall Wenaas

That FILL IN THE BLANK on the cookout buffet seemed like a good idea. But eight hours later, as you lie with a hot cheek against the cool tile of the bathroom floor and do the backwards GI-distress math, you realize it was a bad move. While you may feel all alone with your heaving (how has it not awakened a single family member?), you’re simply among the 48 million Americans who the CDC estimates get food poisoning every year. Once one of those microscopic baddies gets into your system, there’s not much to do except let it pass (usually within 48 hours). So prevention is key, says Angie Murad, RDN, wellness dietitian with the Mayo Clinic Healthy Living Program.

Follow These Procedures

Keep raw meat and produce/cooked foods separate. “Not just on different cutting boards, but in your shopping cart too,” Murad says. “The meat juices can contaminate your vegetables before you leave the grocery store.”

Wash produce. Fruits and veggies may have been contaminated before they even reached the store, so wash them thoroughly. The FDA says all you need is water, but scrub tougher fruits and veggies with a vegetable brush.

 

Sanitize hands and surfaces often. “Cross-contamination is the biggest cause of foodborne illness,” Murad says. Always, always, always wash your hands, and keep them out of your mouth as much as possible. If you’re at a picnic, use alcohol-based hand sanitizer before serving as well as eating.

Cook meat and poultry to the proper temp. Be extra careful when cooking chicken, especially when you’re grill-ing all the time in the summer. “If you don’t have one, buy a meat thermometer,” Murad says. 

Put leftovers away ASAP. Get them in the fridge within two hours—or one if the weather is hotter than 90 degrees.

 

Swap out kitchen towels frequently. A recent study found that 49 of 100 kitchen towels had bacteria growing on them after one month of use.

Spot the Symptoms

The signs of food poisoning are so spectacularly awful that they border on the cartoonish. (You might actually prefer your eyeballs popping out to whatever else you have going on.) The best treatment for the vomiting, cramps, nausea and diarrhea is riding it out, resting and rehydrating. But head straight to urgent care if you have any of these symptoms:

  • You’re unable to drink anything due to frequent vomiting
  • You’re showing signs of dehydration, such as fatigue, dark-colored urine and dizziness 
  • You’ve had diarrhea for longer than three days
  • There’s blood in your stool
  • Your fever reaches 101.5 degrees

Once you have your symptoms under control, try to figure out what caused the food poisoning. If you suspect food from a restaurant is at fault, report it to your local board of health.

Heal Your Body

Avoid taking medicines to soothe your stomach—they may actually make problems worse. (They stop the “release,” so to speak, but the culprit is still in your body.) Instead, eat and drink whatever you can keep down (try bananas, rice, apples or toast) to make sure you’re staying well nourished. “The biggest concern with food poisoning is dehydration,” Murad says. “If you or your teen start showing signs, grab a sports drink like Gatorade that will help replenish electrolytes.” Applesauce, fruits and veggies can keep you hydrated too, she says.

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