More than 680 patients were treated at the Emergency Department of Al Wakra Hospital in May and June for symptoms related to foodborne illnesses, according to Hamad Medical Corporation (HMC).
Cases of food poisoning tend to spike during the summer months, says Emergency Medicine Consultant Dr Farouq Al Rawi. Food poisoning is a sudden illness with symptoms occurring a short time after eating or drinking something contaminated, spoiled, or toxic. Common symptoms such as stomach cramps, nausea, vomiting, and diarrhoea, usually occur within 72-hours. Around 5% of the 37,000 patients cared for at Al Wakra this May and June were treated for food poisoning or gastroenteritis.
While food poisoning can be very uncomfortable, Dr Al Rawi said it is usually not a serious medical condition and can be treated with over-the-counter medication, hydration, and rest. Most cases will resolve within three to five days, although severe food poisoning may require hospitalisation and hydration with intravenous (IV) fluids.
Staying hydrated, eating a bland, low-fat diet, and getting plenty of rest is the recommended treatment for food poisoning. While over-the-counter medications can help control diarrhoea and suppress nausea, we don’t recommend using these medications.’
The body has a natural process to rid its system of toxins (vomiting and diarrhoea) and medications could mask the severity of an illness. Severe cases of food poisoning may require hospital observation and hydration with IV fluids to replace lost salt and minerals, added Dr Al Rawi.
Incidents of foodborne illnesses spike during the summer barbecue season, underscoring the need to be careful about storing, preparing, and serving foods. Dr Al Rawi recommends cleaning the barbecue before each use and washing the grill with hot water and soap. He said that raw food should be kept refrigerated at all times, and should never come in contact with cooked food.
Raw meat, poultry, and seafood should be securely wrapped and stored at the bottom of a cooler or refrigerator so their juices won’t contaminate already prepared foods or raw produce. When using a barbecue, foods should be cooked thoroughly and served immediately after cooking.’
He said that it’s important to ensure that a barbecue is used in a well-ventilated area to prevent carbon monoxide poisoning. He also recommends using leaner cuts of meat, and cutting meat into small pieces to reduce cooking time and limit exposure to the heat and the potentially dangerous smoke and chemicals.
Hadeel Abou-Nada, Clinical Dietician at Hamad General Hospital, said that while anyone can get food poisoning, young children, the elderly, pregnant women, and people with chronic illnesses or compromised immune systems, such as those with diabetes, AIDS, or cancer, are most at risk of becoming severely ill as a result of contracting a food-borne illness.
The best way to prevent food poisoning is to handle your food carefully and to avoid eating any foods that may have been improperly prepared. Always wash your hands before cooking or eating and make sure that your food is properly sealed and stored.’
Foods eaten raw are a common source of food poisoning because they don’t go through the cooking process which kills most foodborne pathogens. Abou-Nada said that educating ourselves and those who work in the food service industry is an essential part of preventing food poisoning. Food temperature can be a major cause of food-borne illness, with foods that are not refrigerated properly, not kept hot enough, or left at room temperature for too long, being among the most common causes of food poisoning.
Packed lunches can also be a major cause of food poisoning in children, noting that parents who pack their children’s lunch should take special care to ensure that lunchboxes are properly cleaned. She also recommends choosing food wisely, avoiding anything that pose the highest contamination risk.
Abou-Nada is also encouraging parents to teach children about the importance of good hand hygiene, not sharing eating utensils, and drinking from their own water bottles and cups.
For more information about HMC services, visit hamad.qa.