Ask the CPCMG Pediatrician:
Food Poisoning

Out of the blue, my five-year-old began to vomit today. He doesn’t have a fever, body aches or any other symptoms. Could he have food poisoning?

Yes, it’s possible that your child may have food poisoning.

Food poisoning is a common term for eating food that is spoiled. Every year, one in six Americans become ill from food borne illness. Food that has a particular bacteria, virus or toxin can be considered a “poison” and will be rejected by your body when it is consumed. Usually children with food poisoning will complain of stomach ache or nausea before they start vomiting. Less commonly, your body will have diarrhea to get quickly rid your body of food that has toxins in it.

Food poisoning is caused by eating food that is improperly prepared or stored. This can happen if you eat out at a restaurant or even at home. Typically, food poisoning symptoms start within 6-12 hours of eating the contaminated food.

To help prevent food poisoning at home, you should follow these guidelines:

  1. Wash your hands, utensils, and food surfaces often,
  2. Keep raw foods separate from ready-to-eat foods
  3. Do not give raw cookie dough to your children
  4. Cook foods to a safe temperature. Using a meat thermometer really helps.
  5. Refrigerate or freeze perishable foods promptly
  6. Be especially mindful when taking perishable foods to picnics and beach days.

To make a diagnosis of food poisoning, your physician can use history of your meals and snacks. If you recently ate at a new restaurant or perhaps changed your routine of handling your food, it may suggest that your child has food poisoning.

Unfortunately there is no simple test to diagnose food poisoning. However, the good news is that typical food poisoning usually only lasts a day or two. Also, food poisoning is not contagious and children will not pass it to other children for family members. Food poisoning can happen to multiple family members – this happens if the affected family members all ate the same food. For example, everyone may have eaten Grandma’s homemade potato salad that stayed out too long in the sun at the family picnic.

Treatment of typical food poisoning involves rest and a slow return to a regular diet. When your child is initially vomiting, he or she will not want to eat at all. One of the goals of treatment is to prevent dehydration in your child. So it is best to simply give your child small sips of fluids such as Pedialyte®. Pedialyte® Freezer Pops are also effective. If your child refuses these options, you can try diluted Gatorade®.

After you child is able to take some fluids and keep it down, the next step is to introduce easily digestible foods. You can start with the BRAT diet: Bananas, Rice, Apple sauce and Toast. Saltine crackers are another option as well as chicken soup. It is very important to introduce food very slowly. You can start to tell when your child is feeling better because he will have return of their and will ask for food.

If your child is not getting better, you may need to take your child to see your CPCMG pediatrician who can help confirm food poisoning. Hopefully, your child will not have a bout of food poisoning. Luckily, he or she should recover quickly.