Warmer weather and outdoor events are often synonymous with an increased risk of food poisoning due to poor catering practices. We interviewed Dr. Hamad Al Rumaihi, Director of the Ministry of Public Health’s department of Health Protection and Communicable Disease Control, and Dr. Sheikh Mohammed Al Thani, Director of Public Health, to find out how the Ministry combats food poisoning in Qatar. Plus, you’ll discover how you can recover more quickly from an episode of food poisoning, and how to keep your loved ones safe by preventing the spread of infection.
Food Poisoning in Qatar
According to the Ministry of Public Health, Qatar has the lowest incidence of food poisoning in the region, with only 50 cases reported last year. The majority of these cases were due to inappropriate food storage and bad practice by restaurants and food handlers.
“The ministry is working on a plan to respond in case of a food poisoning incident or outbreak in the country. It also plans to propose new laws to the cabinet related to public health and food safety in the coming two years. We’re aiming for zero tolerance for deaths from food poisoning and want to reduce the number of these incidences. We have a strong food-monitoring system in restaurants, shops and labor camps. As we prepare for the 2022 World Cup, when many people will be visiting, it is even more critical that food standards are high.” said Dr. Sheikh Mohammed Al Thani.
An estimated 660 million cases of food poisoning are reported globally every year, 420 of these result in death. Among the deaths, one third are children below the age of five years. “We have laws and a strong monitoring system to make sure that food coming to Qatar is safe. But what we see is that 99 percent of cases of food poisoning happen not because of the standards of imported food but due to incorrect methods of storage or processing by restaurant employees and food handlers,” said Dr Al Thani.
“One of our priorities for 2017 is food safety. We are working together with municipalities to increase awareness among food handlers as well as the public,” said Dr. Al Rumaihi. “Although municipalities do their routine inspections at food outlets, restaurants and labor camps, we have a special joint team that responds immediately to any complaint or incident. Food safety teams go to the premises, collect samples and send them to the central food laboratory for analysis. In case of a food violation, the law allows us to close the restaurant.”
What is Food Poisoning?
Food poisoning is an illness caused by eating a food that has been contaminated. In most cases, the food is contaminated by bacteria, such as salmonella or Escherichia coli (E. coli), or a virus, such as the norovirus.
Symptoms can appear between a few hours to several days after eating the contaminated food. These include:
- Vomiting and/or diarrhea
- Stomach pain
- High temperature
- Aching muscles
In most cases, these symptoms pass in a few days and the majority of people make a full recovery. Later on in this article we’ll share how to treat food poisoning at home and help you recover quicker.
How is Food Contaminated?
Food can become contaminated at any stage during production, processing or cooking, such as:
- Not cooking food thoroughly (especially meat and fish)
- Not refrigerating foods that need to be stored below 5C
- Leaving cooked food in warm temperatures
- Not reheating previously cooked food for a long enough time
- Contamination from poor hygiene practices
The following foods are particularly susceptible to contamination, and care should be taken when handling, cooking and storing them:
- Raw eggs
- Raw fish and shellfish
- Raw meat and poultry
- Milk and dairy products
- “Ready-to-eat” foods (sliced meats, pâtés, soft cheeses, pre-packed sandwiches and wraps, dairy desserts…)
Which Bacteria Cause Food Poisoning?
Food contamination is usually caused by bacteria, but it can also sometimes be caused by viruses. Some of the main sources of contamination are:
Campylobacter bacteria are the most common cause of food poisoning, and are usually found on raw or undercooked meat (especially poultry), unpasteurized milk and untreated water.
Salmonella bacteria are often found in raw or undercooked meat, raw eggs, milk, and other dairy products.
Listeria bacteria can be found in a range of chilled, “ready-to-eat” foods. It’s important not to consume these foods after their expiration dates. Pregnant women need to be particularly vigilant because the listeria infection listeriosis can cause birth complications.
Escherichia coli (E. coli)
Escherichia coli, often known as E. coli, are bacteria found in the digestive systems of many animals, including humans. The majority of E. coli food poisoning cases occur after eating undercooked beef (particularly mince, burgers and meatballs) or drinking unpasteurized milk.
The virus that most commonly causes diarrhea and vomiting is the norovirus. It’s easily spread from person to person, through contaminated food or water. Raw shellfish, particularly oysters, can also be a source of infection.
Treating Food Poisoning
In the majority of cases, you can treat food poisoning at home without seeking medical attention. To help your body to recover, make sure you:
- Get plenty of rest.
- Drink plenty of water to replenish the fluids you lose through vomiting and diarrhea.
- Eat a little bit when you feel up to it – keep to small meals and neutral foods like brown rice and vegetables.
- Avoid foods that will stress your body like caffeine, alcohol, spicy and fatty foods, and processed foods.
Natural Remedies for Food Poisoning
Better still, you can soothe some of the symptoms of food poisoning with some of these natural remedies:
- Ginger – a natural anti-inflammatory. Drink hot water infused with ginger to relieve digestive discomfort.
- Apple cider vinegar—due to its alkalizing effect, apple cider vinegar can soothe your gastrointestinal lining. Mix two tablespoons with hot water and drink before eating.
- Banana—Vomiting and diarrhea can deplete potassium stores; bananas are packed with potassium and easy to digest. They’re also great for restoring energy.
- Herbal tea—peppermint, chamomile and liquorish tea all have soothing effects on nausea and can soothe an upset stomach.
When to Seek Medical Advice
- If your symptoms are severe (for example if you’re so sick you can’t keep any fluids down) or don’t improve after a few days
- If you experience dehydration symptoms like rapid heartbeat, sunken eyes, and not passing urine.
- If you’re over 60.
- If you’re pregnant.
- If your child has suspected food poisoning.
- If you have any long-term chronic condition like kidney disease, inflammatory bowel disease, heart disease or diabetes.
How to Prevent the Spread of Infection
If you suspect you have food poisoning, keep contact with other people, especially elderly and young children, to a minimum. Stay off work or school until you feel better and at least 48 hours after the last episode of diarrhea. Here are some general rules to prevent the spread of infection in a household and keep your family safe:
- Everyone should wash their hands frequently with soap and water.
- Keep surfaces, toilet seats, flushes, etc. clean.
- Ensure everyone has their own bath towel.
- Wash laundry on the hottest washing machine setting.
Preventing Food Poisoning
One easy way to do this is the take note of a food’s expiration date, especially foods containing meat, fish diary and eggs. You could also implement the Food Standards Agency’s “four Cs”:
- Cross-contamination (avoiding it)
Keep your kitchen surfaces, utensils and cooking equipment clean. Make sure you wash your hands before preparing food, after handling raw food, and after touching bins or pets.
Cooking food until it’s steaming hot in the middle, particularly meat and most seafood, will kill the bacteria that may be present. If you are reheating food, make sure it’s steaming hot all the way through, and don’t reheat food more than once.
Some foods need to be kept cool – check the label for storage instructions. Make sure your fridge is set to between 0 and 5C.
Cross-contamination happens when bacteria passes from one food (usually a raw food) to another. To prevent this happening:
- Wash your hands after touching raw food.
- Always store meat and fish in sealable containers at the bottom of your fridge (this prevents it from dripping onto other food).
- Clean utensils after using them with a raw food.
- Avoid washing raw meat and poultry—this may splash bacteria around the kitchen. The harmful bacteria will be killed through proper cooking.
- Use different chopping boards or wash your chopping board thoroughly between foods.
Safe Food Abroad
When you are abroad, make sure you practice good food and water hygiene, especially in countries where standards of public hygiene are low. Make sure you check information about health standards before visiting; if you’re unsure, ask a reliable guide. The Ministry of Public Health offers plenty of information on these topics, check out their website for updates.
Don’t become a victim of food poisoning – with just a little care and attention when you handle, cook and store food will keep your kitchen a safe haven for everyone.