Avoid the tummy trouble

Don’t let bad bellies caused by contaminated food spoil your summer, says Dr Sam Hassan, consultant paediatrician at The City Hospital


Is food poisoning common in children? And if so, why?
It is quite common and children are more prone to food poisoning because their immune systems are not yet geared to fight the microbes when they enter the body. Young children’s awareness of hygienic eating and hand washing practice is also less scrupulous than adults and older children too.

What are the most common causes of food poisoning among kids in this country?
One of the most common cause of food poisoning is viral contamination, with many viruses, such as Noroviruses, which may be transmitted from water, shellfish, vegetable and person to person. Other common viruses causing food poisoning are Rota virus and Hepatitis A, which can be transmitted by contaminated water and cause jaundice. One of the commonest bacterial causes is salmonella, which can result in abdominal cramps, nausea, vomiting, fever, headache and other symptoms like arthritis. It may also lead to serious complications in very young children and those with low immune system.

Salmonella exists in human body, animals, birds, eggs, and contaminated water. Dairy products may also be contaminated with it. Fried rice may be contaminated with Bacillus cereus, while E coli may be transmitted by eating undercooked hamburgers, unpasteurised milk, and contaminated water and juice. E coli can cause blood in stools and, in some cases, may even cause kidney failure.

How can you tell if your child actually has eaten something that’s upset them, rather than them just having a normal viral tummy bug)?
You should contact your doctor if the child suffers from any of the symptoms mentioned above, especially if other family members are suffering from the same.
Sometime it’s very difficult to differentiate between simple bug gastroenteritis and food poisoning. Symptoms of food poisoning are variable depending on the type of contaminant and the amount eaten. Symptoms may develop rapidly or slowly up to weeks after ingestion. The most common symptoms are; nausea, vomiting, diarrhoea, abdominal cramps
and fever.

Sometimes food poisoning can be fatal. What action should parents take if they think their child’s illness has been caused by food contamination?
Usually food poisoning is not serious, so parents shouldn’t panic unduly. But sometimes, in rare cases, it can be fatal or may cause serious complications especially in children if not treated properly.

What are the foods and bad habits that are most likely to cause problems in children – and what can we do to avoid incidents of stomach upsets occurring?
Prevention is better than cure and there are so many things you can do to prevent food contamination.

Cleanliness is a big one. Always keep food areas clean, tidy and sanitized, and wash your hands before and after food preparation, and before eating and especially after coming from shops.

Bear in mind that one of the well-known carriers of bugs is money – especially coins. When you go shopping, leave the cold foods until last before going home and get them home fast and put them first to fridge or freezer. Some frozen or cold food such as meat may get contaminated after an hour of exposure to outside temperatures. The same thing may happen if your fridge or freezer is out of order for more than one hour, so make sure that your fridge temperature is around 4.44 degree centigrade or 40 F while freezer is – 17.7 or zero F. Fresh meat should be cooked or freeze within 48 hours.

Make sure the food is well within its expiry date when you eat it, and never buy broken bags or leaking packages. Keep meat separated from other foods and separated from each other in cases of different meats. Avoid re-freezing what has already been defrosted; avoid thawing meat direct with water unless you put it in a leak-proof plastic bag. Avoid eating salads and exposed food from outside sources too, as it will be difficult to ascertain the preparation conditions.

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