How Can I Tell If I Have Food Poisoning?

iStock.com/PhotoBylove
iStock.com/PhotoBylove

Following a salmonella scare involving uncooked turkey in 35 states, millions of Thanksgiving tables may soon be thankful they’re not experiencing food poisoning this holiday season. Provided you take proper food safety precautions, like washing countertop surfaces and cooking meat to bacteria-killing temperatures (typically 165 degrees Fahrenheit or higher), you shouldn’t have to worry about prolonged diarrhea as part of your Black Friday schedule.

Unfortunately, sometimes best practices aren’t always followed, and a cook who fails to wash up or cook food thoroughly can inadvertently spread foodborne illness. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that roughly 48 million people are sickened from food poisoning annually. The signs and symptoms aren’t always obvious, though. So how can you know for sure? What are the causes? What about treatment? How long will it last?

Because vomiting, diarrhea, fever, and other unpleasantries are associated with a number of illnesses besides food poisoning, it helps to look at the timeline to examine what you’ve eaten in the past day or two to see if a specific meal may have been the culprit. “The details are the key to determine if someone has food poisoning,” says Jennifer Katz, M.D., attending physician at the Department of Gastroenterology at Montefiore Health System in New York. “What food was ingested, the time period between ingestion and onset of symptoms, the number of people who ingested the food and how many became ill, and the means of preparation and storage of the suspected food are a few of the key elements.”

Germs like norovirus, salmonella, Clostridium perfringens, and Campylobacter can be transmitted to humans due to improper hand-washing, food that hasn’t been heated thoroughly to kill bacteria, food that was improperly stored, or unsanitary preparation surfaces. If you’re experiencing vomiting, frequent bowel movements, cramps, or neurological symptoms like dizziness, it likely stems from something you’ve ingested within the past one hour to three days. Undercooked poultry, beef, shellfish, eggs, flour, and raw vegetables are common culprits, though you can ingest illness-causing bacteria in a variety of other ways: from kids, from travel, from health care environments, or from contaminated surfaces. If it’s not from food, though, it’s not food poisoning.

So how long does it last? “Most foodborne illness is self-limited,” Katz says. Your body will typically win the bacteria battle in a few hours to a few days, at which point you’ll probably just suffer some residual fatigue and loss of appetite.

Drinking water is the best treatment. Antiemetics or anti-diarrheal medication will slow down the body’s purging method for getting rid of the germs, potentially prolonging your symptoms. But if they don’t resolve within a few days, you might need the assistance of a physician. “One can consider seeking medical attention if they are immunocompromised, have fevers, bloody diarrhea, bloody vomiting, or are unable to tolerate any food or water,” Katz says. Children are more susceptible to getting dehydrated while vomiting and should be monitored closely.

Following a bout with food poisoning, Katz says you might be better off with low-fat meals to take it easy on your stomach. In the majority of cases, the illness will cause no lingering effects, save for an aversion to whatever it is that made you ill in the first place.

In short? If you don’t feel well and suspect a meal you’ve had in the past day or three was improperly prepared or stored, it’s likely food poisoning is the cause. Rest up and hydrate and you’ll be back to normal in no time.

Have you got a Big Question you'd like us to answer? If so, let us know by emailing us at bigquestions@mentalfloss.com.

Where Did the Term Brownie Points Come From?

bhofack2/iStock via Getty Images
bhofack2/iStock via Getty Images

In a Los Angeles Times column published on March 15, 1951, writer Marvin Miles observed a peculiar phrase spreading throughout his circle of friends and the social scene at large. While standing in an elevator, he overheard the man next to him lamenting “lost brownie points.” Later, in a bar, a friend of Miles's who had stayed out too late said he would never “catch up” on his brownie points.

Miles was perplexed. “What esoteric cult was this that immersed men in pixie mathematics?” he wrote. It was, his colleagues explained, a way of keeping “score” with their spouses, of tallying the goodwill they had accrued with the “little woman.”

Over the decades, the phrase brownie points has become synonymous with currying favor, often with authority figures such as teachers or employers. So where exactly did the term come from, and what happens when you “earn” them?

The most pervasive explanation is that the phrase originated with the Brownies, a subsect of the Girl Scouts who were encouraged to perform good deeds in their communities. The Brownies were often too young to be official Girl Scouts and were sometimes the siblings of older members. Originally called Rosebuds in the UK, they were renamed Brownies when the first troops were being organized in 1916. Sir Robert Baden-Powell, who had formed the Boy Scouts and was asked to name this new Girl Scout division, dubbed them Brownies after the magical creatures of Scottish folklore that materialized to selflessly help with household chores.

But the Brownies are not the only potential source. In the 1930s, kids who signed up to deliver magazines like The Saturday Evening Post and Ladies' Home Journal from Curtis Publishing were eligible for vouchers labeled greenies and brownies that they could redeem for merchandise. They were not explicitly dubbed brownie points, but it’s not hard to imagine kids applying a points system to the brownies they earned.

The term could also have been the result of wartime rationing in the 1940s, where red and brown ration points could be redeemed for meats.

The phrase didn’t really seem to pick up steam until Miles's column was published. In this context, the married men speaking to Miles believed brownie points could be collected by husbands who remembered birthdays and anniversaries, stopped to pick up the dry cleaning, mailed letters, and didn’t spend long nights in pubs speaking to newspaper columnists. The goal, these husbands explained, was never to get ahead; they merely wanted to be considered somewhat respectable in the eyes of their wives.

Later, possibly as a result of its usage in print, grade school students took the phrase to mean an unnecessary devotion to teachers in order to win them over. At a family and faculty meeting at Leon High in Tallahassee, Florida, in 1956, earning brownie points was said to be a serious problem. Also called apple polishing, it prompted other students in class to shame their peers for being friendly to teachers. As a result, some were “reluctant to be civil” for fear they would be harassed for sucking up.

In the decades since that time, the idiom has become attached to any act where goodwill can be expected in return, particularly if it’s from someone in a position to reward the act with good grades or a promotion. As for Miles: the columnist declared his understanding of brownie points came only after a long night of investigation. Arriving home late, he said, rendered him “pointless.”

Have you got a Big Question you'd like us to answer? If so, let us know by emailing us at bigquestions@mentalfloss.com.

Grocery Stores vs. Supermarkets: What’s the Difference?

gpointstudio/iStock via Getty Images
gpointstudio/iStock via Getty Images

These days, people across the country are constantly engaging in regional term debates like soda versus pop and fireflies versus lightning bugs. Since these inconsistencies are so common, you might have thought the only difference between a grocery store and a supermarket was whether the person who mentioned one was from Ohio or Texas. In reality, there are distinctions between the stores themselves.

To start, grocery stores have been around for much longer than supermarkets. Back when every town had a bakery, a butcher shop, a greengrocery, and more, the grocery store offered townspeople an efficient shopping experience with myriad food products in one place. John Stranger, vice president group supervisor of the food-related creative agency EvansHardy+Young, explained to Reader’s Digest that the grocer would usually collect the goods for the patron, too. This process might sound familiar if you’ve watched old films or television shows, in which characters often just hand over their shopping lists to the person behind the counter. While our grocery store runs may not be quite so personal today, the contents of grocery stores remain relatively similar: Food, drinks, and some household products.

Supermarkets, on the other hand, have taken the idea of a one-stop shop to another level, carrying a much more expansive array of foodstuffs as well as home goods, clothing, baby products, and even appliances. This is where it gets a little tricky—because supermarkets carry many of the same products as superstores, the next biggest fish in the food store chain, which are also sometimes referred to as hypermarkets.

According to The Houston Chronicle, supermarkets and superstores both order inventory in bulk and usually belong to large chains, whereas grocery stores order products on an as-needed basis and are often independently owned. Superstores, however, are significantly larger than either grocery stores or supermarkets, and they typically look more like warehouses. It’s not an exact science, and some people might have conflicting opinions about how to categorize specific stores. For example, Walmart has a line of Walmart Neighborhood Markets, which its website describes as “smaller-footprint option[s] for communities in need of a pharmacy, affordable groceries, and merchandise.” They’re not independently owned, but they do sound like grocery stores, especially compared to Walmart’s everything-under-the-sun superstore model.

Knowing the correct store terms might not always matter in casual conversation, but it could affect your credit card rewards earnings. American Express, for example, offers additional rewards on supermarket purchases, and it has a specific list of stores that qualify as supermarkets, including Gristedes, Shoprite, Stop & Shop, and Whole Foods. Target and Walmart, on the other hand, are both considered superstores, so you won’t earn bonuses on those purchases.

And, since grocery shopping at any type of store can sometimes seem like a competitive sport, here’s the ideal time to go.

Have you got a Big Question you'd like us to answer? If so, let us know by emailing us at bigquestions@mentalfloss.com.

SECTIONS

arrow
LIVE SMARTER