Food Poisoning: Overview and More

Food poisoning is common. In fact, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), approximately one in six people in the United States will have a foodborne illness each year .

While the exact symptoms differ based on the specific germs (such as bacteria, viruses, or parasites) that infect food or drink, most people with food poisoning experience nausea, vomiting, and / or diarrhea, which can be controlled with home care measures. . … In some cases, antibiotics or hospitalization may be required to receive fluids intravenously (through a vein).

Get Medical Information / Jessica Olah

Symptoms of food poisoning

Most food poisoning causes nausea, vomiting, and / or diarrhea, which can be bloody, runny, or slimy.

Other potential symptoms of food poisoning include one or more of the following:

  • Abdominal cramps and / or abdominal discomfort / pain
  • Hot
  • Headache
  • Soft spot

In addition to the subtle differences in symptoms based on the specific microbes that infect food, the timing of symptoms can also vary. In other words, food poisoning symptoms can appear hours after eating or drinking, or they can take longer to appear, even days.

When to seek medical help

Most cases of food poisoning are uncomfortable but go away without consequences. However, there are certain signs that indicate the need for medical attention.

Contact your doctor if:

  • You cannot retain fluids due to vomiting, or you cannot (or feel like you cannot) drink enough to stay hydrated.
  • Dizziness or weakness when getting up
  • Your mouth or throat is very dry.
  • You cannot urinate or urinate very little.
  • Diarrhea that persists for more than three days.
  • Bloody or tarry stools
  • High or persistent fever
  • Sudden or severe abdominal pain, cramps, and / or stiffness.
  • Be aware that your baby cries without tears, fewer wet diapers, dry mouth, or other symptoms of dehydration.

Dehydration is a potentially serious complication of all types of food poisoning. Significant fluid loss can result from vomiting and diarrhea .

Types of food poisoning

To better understand how food poisoning can manifest itself, it helps to understand the various microbes that can cause it. Some of the most common are:


Norovirus can cause food poisoning and is often associated with cruise ships or other crowded places like kindergartens.

Symptoms of norovirus food poisoning begin 12 to 48 hours after exposure and include abdominal cramps, watery diarrhea (more common in adults), and / or vomiting (more common in children).


Campylobacter food poisoning is commonly associated with eating undercooked chicken, drinking unpasteurized milk, or contaminated water. Symptoms generally develop two to five days after exposure and include diarrhea (sometimes bloody), fever, abdominal cramps, nausea, muscle aches, and headaches.

Guillain-Barré syndrome is a rare potential complication of Campylobacter infection .


Salmonella food poisoning causes watery diarrhea, fever, abdominal cramps, nausea, and vomiting 6 to 72 hours after exposure.

There are many potential sources of Salmonella in food, including eggs, chicken, meat, unpasteurized milk or juice, cheese, spices, nuts, raw fruits, and vegetables (especially alfalfa and melon sprouts).

E. coli O157

A person can develop Escherichia coli ( E. coli ) O157 infection three to four days after eating contaminated and undercooked meats, especially hamburgers. Other potential sources include raw milk, contaminated water, and unpasteurized juice .

E. coli O157 infection causes severe stomach cramps, bloody diarrhea, and sometimes a low-grade fever. While most people recover within five to seven days without treatment, a life-threatening condition called hemolytic uremic syndrome (HUS) can develop, also called hamburger disease .


Shigella is a bacteria that can cause bloody or slimy diarrhea, in addition to abdominal cramps and high fever, usually one to three days after infection.

Possible food sources of Shigella contamination include raw vegetables, sandwiches, and salads that require a lot of hand cooking, such as potato salad .

Clostridium botulinum

Clostridium botulinum food poisoning, also called botulism , can occur 18 to 36 hours after consuming vegetables and other canned and home-canned foods, such as honey (so it should not be given to children under 1 year of age) .

In addition to nausea, vomiting, and abdominal cramps, botulism can cause neurological symptoms, some of which are potentially fatal (such as double vision and difficulty swallowing, speaking, and breathing). Babies can experience weakness, constipation, and feeding problems .

Giardia duodenalis

Infection with Giardia duodenalis, a parasite that can live in the intestines of animals and humans , causes diarrhea, abdominal cramps, bloating, nausea, and a foul-smelling stool for one to two weeks after infection.

People generally become infected with Giardia duodenalis by drinking contaminated water; however, a person can also become infected by eating raw meat infected with the parasite's cysts.


Food contamination can occur in many ways, such as when food is undercooked, improperly processed or canned, or prepared by a sick person.

Another potential source is food grown in contaminated water, as well as cross contamination that occurs during food preparation (eg slicing carrots on a meat cutting board).

Although anyone can get food poisoning, certain groups are at higher risk. Examples include :

  • Anyone with a weakened immune system (such as someone with HIV , cancer, liver disease, diabetes , or someone on steroid therapy)
  • Pregnant women
  • People who live or spend a lot of time in crowded places like military barracks, kindergartens, cruise ships, or nursing homes.

Also, some groups of people (infants, young children, and the elderly) are more prone to dehydration from food poisoning.


Many people do not see their healthcare provider if they have classic food poisoning symptoms and if there is a history of another person or group of people who also got sick from eating the same foods.

This is generally advisable if you are not in a high-risk group (such as an elderly, pregnant, or immunosuppressed person) or if your symptoms are severe or persistent. In these cases, it is important to contact your healthcare professional.

If you go to your doctor, they will do a physical exam and physical exam. Additional tests (such as blood, urine, or stool) may be ordered to evaluate alternative diagnoses or complications and / or to look for a potential source of infection, especially in the event of an outbreak in the community.

History of the disease

As you take your history, your healthcare provider will ask you several questions about your symptoms, including their duration and severity. They will also ask you about what you ate, as well as the types of symptoms (for example, did everyone in your family get sick after eating a certain meal or after a family picnic)?

Physical exam

During your physical exam, your healthcare provider will check your blood pressure, heart rate, temperature, and weight. They will also press on your stomach and listen to bowel sounds to determine a diagnosis that can simulate food poisoning, such as appendicitis .


In most cases, a health care provider will only assume a food poisoning diagnosis based on a medical history and physical exam. They will not go ahead with further testing because identifying the specific source of the infection usually does not change the treatment plan.

However, additional tests may be ordered if your healthcare provider suspects a different diagnosis (such as appendicitis ) or a complication of food poisoning (such as dehydration or sepsis from bacteria entering the bloodstream).

Examples of such tests include:

Lastly, stool tests should be done to look for and determine the cause of a severe food poisoning or outbreak that may require certain medications.

Watch out

Hydration is a key treatment for food poisoning and can usually be done effectively at home .


It is important to drink water that contains salt and sugar to stay hydrated and replace lost fluids.

You can breastfeed or use infant formula and Pedialyte for babies.

For adults and children, you can use oral replacement therapy ( ORT ) like Ceralyte or Oralyte, or you can make your own solution by adding 6 teaspoons of sugar and 0.5 teaspoons of salt per liter of water .

Avoid sports drinks like Gatorade, which cannot adequately compensate for fluid and electrolyte loss due to their high sugar content. In fact, they can even make diarrhea worse .


In most cases of food poisoning, medication is not necessary.

Antibiotics are usually prescribed for serious infections such as shigellosis ( Shigella infection). Another type of medicine, called an antiparasitic medicine, is used to treat food poisoning caused by parasites.

Antidiarrheals such as Imodium (loperamide) are generally only recommended for adults (not children) who have mild symptoms, no fever, and no diarrhea in the blood.

In some cases, your healthcare provider may recommend an antiemetic such as zofran (ondansetron) to suppress vomiting and prevent dehydration. Pepto -Bismol (bismuth subsalicylate) antacid may also be recommended for relief of uncomplicated diarrhea.

Severe cases of dehydration and / or food poisoning in high-risk people, such as the elderly, may require hospitalization to receive intravenous fluids.


Avoiding contaminated food and water is key to preventing foodborne illness. However, if you do get sick, don't take yourself seriously; sometimes, even with all the precautions taken, an infection occurs.

To reduce the chance of swallowing contaminated food :

  • Wash your hands with soap and water for 20 seconds before, during and after cooking / preparing food and before eating.
  • Wash knives, cutting boards, countertops, and other kitchen utensils in hot, soapy water.
  • Wash bagged fresh fruits, vegetables, and herbs.
  • Store raw meat, eggs, seafood, and poultry away from other ready-to-eat foods or foods in the refrigerator.
  • Use separate kitchen utensils / plates for raw meat, poultry, and seafood.
  • Avoid unpasteurized milk ( raw milk) and juices.

Also, use a food thermometer while cooking to make sure food is cooked to the right temperature to kill germs. (eg 165 degrees for the whole bird).

Also, throw out foods that are past their expiration date, even if they don't smell "bad" or look "weird." Many contaminated foods look and smell normal.

When traveling to other countries, do not drink tap water or use ice made from tap water, and try not to eat fruits and vegetables that cannot be cooked or peeled.

Another way to avoid food poisoning is to eat a predominantly plant-based diet, as many bacteria / parasites are more common in meats and animal products.

Bacteria multiply faster at higher temperatures, so food poisoning increases during the summer months. Take extra care and observe food safety regulations during summer picnics and barbecues.

Get the word of drug information

Food poisoning occurs. There are bacteria, parasites, and viruses that can be transmitted from cooks to guests and from canned foods to families. In the end, do everything you can to protect yourself and your family by preparing and preparing food safely.

If you are sick, let your body rest and, most importantly, drink plenty of fluids. Also, seek medical advice or attention if you are concerned about dehydration or if you have anxiety, severe and / or persistent symptoms.

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