Flu vs. Food Poisoning? How to tell the difference

It's not always easy to tell the difference between foodborne illness, also referred to as food poisoning and influenza.
Flu vs. Food Poisoning? How to tell the difference - Articles

Updated: August 8, 2017

Flu vs. Food Poisoning? How to tell the difference

Influenza, commonly called the "flu" is a viral infection that attacks your respiratory system -- your nose, throat and lungs. Common signs and symptoms of the flu include fever, aching muscles, chills and sweats, headache, dry cough, fatigue and weakness and nasal congestion. These are symptoms that are not typical of food poisoning because the flu is a respiratory disease, and not a stomach or intestinal disease. The flu shot protects against influenza. According to the US Department of Health and Human Services, each year approximately 5-20% of U.S. residents get the flu and more than 200,000 people are hospitalized for flu-related complications.

On the other hand, out of every six Americans, one is sickened by food poisoning each year totaling 48 million illnesses. Those illnesses result in 128,000 hospitalizations and 3,000 deaths each year according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Most types of food poisoning cause one or more of the following signs and symptoms: nausea, vomiting, watery diarrhea, abdominal pain and cramps, and fever.

Foodborne illness is carried or transmitted to humans by food containing harmful substances. Infectious organisms -- including bacteria, viruses and parasites -- or their toxins are the most common causes of food poisoning.

Infectious organisms or their toxins can contaminate food at any point of processing or production. Contamination can also occur at home if food is incorrectly handled or cooked.

Everyone can reduce their risk of food poisoning by properly handling food and following the Four Simple Steps: clean, separate, cook and refrigerate.

  1. Clean: Wash Hands and Surfaces Often. Bacteria can be spread throughout the kitchen and get onto hands, cutting boards, utensils, counter tops and food.
  2. Separate: Don't Cross-Contaminate! Cross-contamination is how bacteria can be spread. When handling raw meat, poultry, seafood and eggs, keep these foods and their juices away from ready-to-eat foods. Always start with a clean scene -- wash hands with warm water and soap. Wash cutting boards, dishes, countertops and utensils with hot soapy water.
  3. Cook: Cook to Proper Temperatures. Food is safely cooked when it reaches a high enough internal temperature to kill the harmful bacteria that cause foodborne illness. Use a food thermometer to measure the internal temperature of cooked foods.
  4. Chill: Refrigerate Promptly! Refrigerate foods quickly because cold temperatures slow the growth of harmful bacteria. Do not over-stuff the refrigerator. Cold air must circulate to help keep food safe. Keeping a constant refrigerator temperature of 40°F or below is one of the most effective ways to reduce the risk of foodborne illness. Use an appliance thermometer to be sure the temperature is consistently 40°F or below. The freezer temperature should be 0°F or below.

Although influenza and food poisoning are not the same thing, thorough and frequent hand-washing is one effective way to help prevent them both.

Authors

Nutrition Health Food Safety

More by Dori Campbell, MS, RD, LDN