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Preventing Food Borne Illness

[fa icon="calendar"] Apr 28, 2020 10:00:00 AM / by Calvin Leong


Food borne illness, or food poisoning, is caused by eating food or drinking liquid that is contaminated with harmful bacteria, virus, parasites, or poisons (toxins). Bacteria and virus cause most food borne illnesses. In May 2019, the Malaysian Health Minister reported a 24 percent increase in food poisoning cases from the previous year (NST, 23 Jul 2019).

Closeup portrait of miserable, upset, young guy, doubling over in stomach pain, looking very sick, isolated on white background with copy space. Human facial expressions,emotions, health issues

Common signs and symptoms of food borne illness include sudden nausea, vomiting, abdominal pain, diarrhoea, and fever. Most food borne illnesses go away in a few days without treatment. However, if you have severe signs and symptoms, medical treatment may be needed.

You can prevent food borne illness by choosing to eat foods that are safely prepared, preparing your food properly, and taking other precautions.

What Precautions Can I Take?

Take extra care with foods that can spoil (perishable foods) like meat and dairy products. Germs can start to grow in these foods whether they are raw, cooked, or prepared. Make sure you:

  • Check labels to see if foods need to be refrigerated.
  • Freeze or refrigerate all perishable foods within two hours. Your refrigerator should be set to 5°C or colder.

Farmer carrying basket of veg on a sunny day

Check the cooking instructions for all foods. Heating kills many germs and toxins. Use a meat thermometer to make sure you have cooked meats to the right temperature to make them safe for consumption.

  • Pork should be cooked to no less than 62.8°C.
  • Whole cuts of beef, veal, and lamb should be cooked to no less than 62.8°C.
  • Ground meat should be cooked to no less than 71.1°C.
  • Poultry should be cooked to no less than 73.9°C.

beautiful young chef woman prepare and decorating tasty food in kitchen

Wash fruits and vegetables under running water before you eat, cut, or cook them. If you are preparing fruits and vegetables in a location where running water may not be sanitary, use bottled water to clean fruit and vegetables or remove peels before eating.

Keep raw meats, poultry, fish, shellfish, and eggs separate from other foods. Germs or toxins can pass from one food to another.

It is also important to remember that drinking unpasteurised milk or juice is not safe.

Young pretty woman drinking yogurt over pink background and looking at camera

What Other Changes Can I Make?

Wash your hands for at least 20 seconds with soap and water before and after handling food. Always wash your hands after using the bathroom or changing a diaper. All surfaces where food is prepared must be washed with hot, soapy water. Wash all utensils, plates, cutting boards, pots, and pans. Do this before and after food preparation.

If you travel to an area where food borne illness is common:

  • Do not drink tap water, use ice from tap water, or brush your teeth with tap water. Use only bottled water.
  • Do not eat raw fruits or vegetables, unless you wash and peel them yourself.
  • Do not eat foods sold by a street vendor.
  • Do not eat rare meat, uncooked fish, or shellfish.
  • Talk to your health care provider about bringing medicine with you to treat possible food borne illness (traveler’s diarrhoea).

Why Should I Make These Changes?

You should make these changes so that you and your family can avoid food borne illness. Most food borne illnesses pass in a few days, but some can be dangerous. People at higher risk for serious food borne illness include children, older adults, pregnant women, and people with weak immune systems.

What Can Happen If Changes Are Not Made?

Food borne illnesses range in severity. They can cause unpleasant symptoms to dangerous complications. Complications can include dehydration and bleeding in your digestive system. Severe cases of food borne illness can be deadly.

Doctor changing the drip to older sick patient

What Are My Treatment Options For Food Borne Illness?

Most cases of food borne illness can be treated at home. You should:

  • Drink enough fluid to keep your urine clear or pale yellow.
  • Avoid foods and drinks that are hard to digest or that irritate your digestive system. These include fatty foods, dairy foods, caffeine, sugary foods, and alcohol.
  • Gradually start eating foods that are easy on your digestive system. These include rice, potatoes, toast, applesauce, broth, and bananas.

Severe cases of food borne illness may need to be treated with IV fluids and other medicines. Antibiotic medicines may be given for severe illness caused by bacteria. Call your health care provider if you have:

  • Persistent vomiting and cannot keep any fluids down.
  • Diarrhoea for more than two days.
  • Severe abdominal pain.
  • Bloody or tarry stools.


  • Food borne illness is caused by bacteria, viruses, parasites, or toxins.
  • Symptoms include sudden nausea, vomiting, abdominal pain, diarrhoea, and fever.
  • You can prevent food borne illness by carefully preparing, storing, and cooking your food.
  • Make sure to wash your hands and all food preparation surfaces and utensils before and after handling food.
  • Avoid tap water and uncooked foods when traveling to areas where food borne illness is common.
  • Call your health care provider if you have severe symptoms of food  borne illness, or if you have common symptoms that last more than a few days.

This information is not intended to replace advice given to you by your health care provider. Make sure you discuss any questions you have with your health care provider.


Braden and Tauxe, 2013. Braden C.R., and Tauxe R.V.: Emerging trends in foodborne diseases. Infect Dis Clin North Am 2013; 27: pp. 517-533

Byrd-Bredbenner C, Berning J, Martin-Biggers J, and Quick V: Food safety in home kitchens: a synthesis of the literature. Int J Environ Res Public Health 2013; 10: pp. 4060-4085

Havelaar AH, Kirk MD, Torgerson PR, et al: World Health Organization global estimates and regional comparisons of the burden of foodborne disease in 2010. PLOS Med 2015

Kalyoussef and Feja, 2014. Kalyoussef S., and Feja K.N.: Foodborne illnesses. Adv Pediatr 2014; 61: pp. 287-312

Lukacsovics A, Nesbitt A, Marshall B, et al: Using environmental health officers’ opinions to inform the source attribution of enteric disease: further analysis of the “most likely source of infection.”. BMC Public Health 2014; 14: pp. 1258

Lund BM, and O'Brien SJ: The occurrence and prevention of foodborne disease invulnerable people. Foodborne Pathog Dis 2011; 8: pp. 961-973

Switaj et al., 2015. Switaj T.L., Winter K.J., and Christensen S.R.: Diagnosis and management of foodborne illness. Am Fam Physician 2015; 92: pp. 358-365

Young I, and Waddell L: Barriers and facilitators to safe food handling among consumers: a systematic review and thematic synthesis of qualitative research studies. PloS One 2016; 11:


Learn more about food borne illness from:

Ministry of Health Malaysia – Food Safety & Quality Division

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: Food Borne Germs & Illness

National Institutes of Health: Food Poisoning

Food Safety.Org: Food Poisoning

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Topics: Wellness

Calvin Leong

Written by Calvin Leong

Calvin Leong holds a Master in Medical Education from the University of Dundee, United Kingdom. He is certified in Clinical Wound Care by the ASEAN Wound Care Association. Calvin has 20 years of clinical and lecturing experience focusing on Mentoring in Healthcare, Traumatology and Medical Sciences. Calvin is HRDC certified trainer. He is also a Life Member of The Malaysian Association for the Study of Pain (MASP) and the Malaysian Society of Wound Care Professionals (MSWCP).

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