Chances are that you will contract a foodborne illness – some mild form of food poisoning or stomach flu – at least once in your life. Unfortunately, trying to avoid food waste heightens these chances, as you might attempt to salvage leftovers that have been sitting out too long or convince yourself that something hasn’t gone bad. However, food can get infected with bacteria even if it isn’t necessarily old, so sickness isn’t necessarily a result of the consumer’s poor judgment. Regardless of how the illness is contracted, the important thing to know is how to recover.
There are many types of foodborne illnesses, but the most common, least threatening ones last 1-7 days. Noroviruses (aka gastroenteritis or stomach flus) are the most prevalent foodborne illnesses in the United States and typically result from consuming improperly cooked shellfish or vegetables, meals prepared by infected handlers, or contaminated water. In addition to food and beverage consumption, though, transmission can occur via contact with an infected person. Since it is a fairly mild infection, symptoms are typically restricted to nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, and abdominal pain (Pacific Northwest Publications). Nevertheless, when your body is trying to purge itself of any kind of infection or virus, eating can become very tricky. Eating too much, too fast, or the wrong foods too soon can lead to an unpleasant relapse, so it’s important to exercise caution.
How to eat and drink without aggravating your condition:
1) Drink water, electrolytes, and sodium. Vomiting and especially diarrhea can cause dehydration and expel vital nutrients. Gatorade and broths are excellent sources of minerals. Peppermint and chamomile teas are also good for upset stomachs.
2) Once the major ‘expulsions’ have stopped for several hours, if not an entire day, slowly try to eat. Many doctors recommend following the BRAT diet: bananas, (white) rice, applesauce, and (white) toast. Saltine crackers and plain pasta (not whole grain) are also good options. Chew these carefully and eat them in small doses. For flavor, prepare them in or combine them with chicken or vegetable stock.
3) If eating those bland, easy-to-digest foods doesn’t cause a relapse after 24 hours, gradually incorporate more foods into your diet. Some options are water-based oatmeal; dry, low-fiber cereals; boiled or grilled white poultry or fish; cooked soft vegetables; hard-boiled eggs; baked or mashed potatoes (prepared without butter or milk).
4) As your condition improves, eat these safe foods in more regular portions to test the resilience of your stomach for a day or two before returning to a regular diet.
5) Until you feel fully recovered, avoid caffeine, whole grains, milk products, high-fiber and high-sugar foods, fatty/fried/oily foods, spicy food, and raw fruits (except bananas) and vegetables. These cause dehydration, are difficult for the body to break down, or can further irritate the intestines.
With a lot of rest and careful eating, your body should recover within a few days. Normalize your diet in small steps: don’t shock your body with a milky latte, spicy fried chicken, and raw broccoli the minute you’ve passed 48 hours on step #4.
Be kind to your body and don’t overestimate your resilience.