How Can I Tell If I Have Food Poisoning?

iStock.com/PhotoBylove
iStock.com/PhotoBylove

Following a salmonella scare involving uncooked turkey in 35 states, millions of Thanksgiving tables may soon be thankful they’re not experiencing food poisoning this holiday season. Provided you take proper food safety precautions, like washing countertop surfaces and cooking meat to bacteria-killing temperatures (typically 165 degrees Fahrenheit or higher), you shouldn’t have to worry about prolonged diarrhea as part of your Black Friday schedule.

Unfortunately, sometimes best practices aren’t always followed, and a cook who fails to wash up or cook food thoroughly can inadvertently spread foodborne illness. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that roughly 48 million people are sickened from food poisoning annually. The signs and symptoms aren’t always obvious, though. So how can you know for sure? What are the causes? What about treatment? How long will it last?

Because vomiting, diarrhea, fever, and other unpleasantries are associated with a number of illnesses besides food poisoning, it helps to look at the timeline to examine what you’ve eaten in the past day or two to see if a specific meal may have been the culprit. “The details are the key to determine if someone has food poisoning,” says Jennifer Katz, M.D., attending physician at the Department of Gastroenterology at Montefiore Health System in New York. “What food was ingested, the time period between ingestion and onset of symptoms, the number of people who ingested the food and how many became ill, and the means of preparation and storage of the suspected food are a few of the key elements.”

Germs like norovirus, salmonella, Clostridium perfringens, and Campylobacter can be transmitted to humans due to improper hand-washing, food that hasn’t been heated thoroughly to kill bacteria, food that was improperly stored, or unsanitary preparation surfaces. If you’re experiencing vomiting, frequent bowel movements, cramps, or neurological symptoms like dizziness, it likely stems from something you’ve ingested within the past one hour to three days. Undercooked poultry, beef, shellfish, eggs, flour, and raw vegetables are common culprits, though you can ingest illness-causing bacteria in a variety of other ways: from kids, from travel, from health care environments, or from contaminated surfaces. If it’s not from food, though, it’s not food poisoning.

So how long does it last? “Most foodborne illness is self-limited,” Katz says. Your body will typically win the bacteria battle in a few hours to a few days, at which point you’ll probably just suffer some residual fatigue and loss of appetite.

Drinking water is the best treatment. Antiemetics or anti-diarrheal medication will slow down the body’s purging method for getting rid of the germs, potentially prolonging your symptoms. But if they don’t resolve within a few days, you might need the assistance of a physician. “One can consider seeking medical attention if they are immunocompromised, have fevers, bloody diarrhea, bloody vomiting, or are unable to tolerate any food or water,” Katz says. Children are more susceptible to getting dehydrated while vomiting and should be monitored closely.

Following a bout with food poisoning, Katz says you might be better off with low-fat meals to take it easy on your stomach. In the majority of cases, the illness will cause no lingering effects, save for an aversion to whatever it is that made you ill in the first place.

In short? If you don’t feel well and suspect a meal you’ve had in the past day or three was improperly prepared or stored, it’s likely food poisoning is the cause. Rest up and hydrate and you’ll be back to normal in no time.

Have you got a Big Question you'd like us to answer? If so, let us know by emailing us at bigquestions@mentalfloss.com.

What is a Polar Vortex?

Edward Stojakovic, Flickr // CC BY 2.0
Edward Stojakovic, Flickr // CC BY 2.0

If you’ve turned on the news or stepped outside lately, you're familiar with the record-breaking cold that is blanketing a lot of North America. According to The Washington Post, a mass of bone-chilling air over Canada—a polar vortex—split into three parts at the beginning of 2019, and one is making its way to the eastern U.S. Polar vortexes can push frigid air straight from the arctic tundra into more temperate regions. But just what is this weather phenomenon?

How does a polar vortex form?

Polar vortexes are basically arctic hurricanes or cyclones. NASA defines them as “a whirling and persistent large area of low pressure, found typically over both North and South poles.” A winter phenomenon, vortexes develop as the sun sets over the pole and temperatures cool, and occur in the middle and upper troposphere and the stratosphere (roughly, between six and 31 miles above the Earth’s surface).

Where will a polar vortex hit?

In the Northern Hemisphere, the vortexes move in a counterclockwise direction. Typically, they dip down over Canada, but according to NBC News, polar vortexes can move into the contiguous U.S. due to warm weather over Greenland or Alaska—which forces denser cold air south—or other weather patterns.

Polar vortexes aren't rare—in fact, arctic winds do sometimes dip down into the eastern U.S.—but sometimes the sheer size of the area affected is much greater than normal.

How cold is a polar vortex?

So cold that frozen sharks have been known to wash up on Cape Cod beaches. So cold that animal keepers at the Calgary Zoo in Alberta, Canada once decided to bring its group of king penguins indoors for warmth (the species lives on islands north of Antarctica and the birds aren't used to extreme cold.) Even parts of Alabama and other regions in the Deep South have seen single-digit temperatures and wind chills below zero.

But thankfully, this type of arctic freeze doesn't stick around forever: Temperatures will gradually warm up.

In What Field Was Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. a Doctor?

Express Newspapers/Getty Images
Express Newspapers/Getty Images

Martin Luther King, Jr. earned a doctorate in systematic theology from Boston University in 1955. He’d previously earned a Bachelor of Arts from Morehouse College and a Bachelor of Divinity from Crozer Theological Seminary. His dissertation, “A Comparison of the Conception of God in the Thinking of Paul Tillich and Henry Nelson Wieman,” examined the two religious philosophers’ views of God in comparison to each other, and to King’s own concept of a "knowable and personal" God.

Some three decades after he earned his doctorate, in 1989, archivists working with The Martin Luther King Papers Project discovered that King’s dissertation suffered from what they called a “problematic use of sources.” King, they learned, had taken a large amount of material verbatim from other scholars and sources and used it in his work without full or proper attribution, and sometimes no attribution at all.

In 1991, a Boston University investigatory committee concluded that King had indeed plagiarized parts of his dissertation, but found that it was “impractical to reach, on the available evidence, any conclusions about Dr. King's reasons for failing to attribute some, but not all, of his sources.” That is, it could have been anything from malicious intent to simple forgetfulness—no one can determine for sure today. They did not recommend a posthumous revocation of his degree, but instead suggested that a letter be attached to the dissertation in the university library noting the passages lacked quotations and citations.

Have you got a Big Question you'd like us to answer? If so, let us know by emailing us at bigquestions@mentalfloss.com.

This article was originally published in 2013.

SECTIONS

arrow
LIVE SMARTER