Stomach flu vs. food poisoning Health eMinute
by Anshu Sharma, MD, family medicine physician at North Memorial Clinic— Arbor Lakes & Janice Cox, RD, LD, dietitian at Lunds & Byerlys
My stomach hurts…
You feel fine one minute and, suddenly, you have stomach cramps, feel nauseous and need to get to the bathroom, fast. Was it something you ate or do you have a stomach flu? The symptoms are similar and you may never know what you really have.
In the U.S., 48 million people (one in six) get sick from food-borne illness every year according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Food poisoning symptoms typically begin six to 24 hours after eating something that has been contaminated or spoiled and last up to four days while symptoms of the stomach flu show up one to 10 days after exposure and last two to 10 days.
Common symptoms of both illnesses include nausea, stomach cramps, vomiting and diarrhea.
Food poisoning is caused by eating contaminated or spoiled food. E. coli, Salmonella, Listeria and Campylobacter are the most common bacteria that cause food poisoning. Foods that are high risk for food poisoning include dairy products, raw seafood, raw eggs, lunch meat, undercooked meat and poultry. Pregnant women, the elderly, young children and anyone with an illness are at higher risk. Minimize your risk by taking simple precautions—see tips below.
Gastroenteritis commonly known as “stomach flu” has nothing to do with the flu and a flu shot won’t help. It’s an irritation and inflammation of the stomach and intestines caused by an infection called Norovirus in adults or rotavirus in kids. It can spread quickly in crowds and hand washing is your best defense.
To help identify whether it’s food poisoning or the stomach flu, talk to family and friends you’ve recently dined with to see if more than one person has been infected. Both illnesses are typically treated in similar ways—rest, hydration and possibly medications for diarrhea and nausea. A bland diet of toast, cereal and bananas is also recommended. See a physician if you have a fever over 101° or bloody stools. North Memorial Clinics can help—to schedule an appointment, call 763.581.CARE (2273) or use our online tools.
Hydration is critical
Dehydration is a major complication with both conditions. Be sure to hydrate yourself well with water or a hydration drink like Pedialyte which provides the right combination of salt, sugar, electrolytes and other nutrients you lose when you have diarrhea or vomiting. Most sports drinks don’t have the right balance of electrolytes.
Picnic safely this summer
Follow these tips to keep your food fresh and at safe temperatures when you’re eating outdoors this summer:
- Wash hands in advance of all food preparations. If soap and water are not available, bring moist toilettes or hand sanitizer and be sure to clean hands before and after touching food.
- Start with a clean cooler and bring along a thermometer, plenty of ice or freezer packs, clean utensils, storage for leftovers, paper towels and trash bags.
- Wash all produce thoroughly.
- Use separate cutting boards and knives for raw and cooked foods.
- Keep raw and cooked foods separate to prevent cross contamination. Keep raw meat, poultry, seafood and eggs separate from ready-to-eat foods.
- Thaw meats in the refrigerator and cook them to the proper temperature. Use a food thermometer to ensure hamburger is cooked to at least 160° Fahrenheit and cook chicken to 165°.
Learn more about safe cooking temperatures here >
- Keep foods properly chilled or heated. The danger zone for rapid bacteria growth is between 40° and 140°. It is important not to leave food out for more than two hours (one hour if the outside temperature is 90° or above).
- Don’t leave foods out in the sun.
Talk to your local Lunds & Byerlys FoodE Expert for more tips on keeping food fresh and delicious this summer.