Some strains of Escherichia coli can cause severe sickness, such as abdominal cramps, bloody diarrhea and vomiting. (iStock)

Most people are all too familiar with the gut-wrenching sensation of food poisoning. But what can your symptoms reveal about the potential bug that made your body revolt — and how can you protect yourself next time?

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention maintains a helpful food safety page online so you can sidestep food poisoning. It’s packed with info about the ailment: what causes it, how to tell if you’ve got it and how to prevent it.

Among the site’s most useful features is its list of food poisoning symptoms. The chart of symptoms and how long it usually takes them to appear can help you narrow down the likely culprit.

Staphylococcus aureus, for example, usually turns up in foods that aren’t cooked before handling, and shows up as nausea, vomiting and stomach cramping within 30 minutes to six hours after eating. In contrast, Cyclospora, which is spread by raw fruits and veggies, takes a week to strike, bringing watery diarrhea, fatigue and stomach pain along for the ride.

According to the CDC, 1 in 6 people gets sick from eating contaminated food annually. Those with compromised immune systems, diseases such as diabetes, and the very young or old are at the greatest risk. But anyone can have a run-in with foodborne illnesses.

Unfortunately, keeping people from such nasty bugs isn’t as simple as just teaching better food prep skills. Foods can get contaminated at any point along the production chain, or be populated by antibiotic-resistant bacteria on farms. The site goes into those complexities, and how to protect yourself.

It may not be the most pleasant recreational reading topic, but it doesn’t hurt to be prepared.


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