Food poisoning, also referred to as foodborne illness, is an illness produced by consuming poisoned or contaminated food. Infectious organisms — including viruses, bacteria, and parasites — or their toxins are the most prevalent causes of food poisoning.
Infectious organisms or their viri can make food toxic at any point of processing or production. Infection and positioning can also transpire at home if food is poorly handled or cooked.
Food poisoning symptoms, which can begin within hours of consuming contaminated food, often comprise of nausea, vomiting or diarrhea. Most frequently, food poisoning is mild and resolves without treatment. However, some individuals may need to go to the hospital.
Food poisoning symptoms differ based on the source of contamination. Most kinds of food poisoning cause one or more of the following signs and symptoms:
- Watery or bloody diarrhea
- Abdominal pain and cramps
Signs and symptoms may prompt within a few hours after eating the contaminated food, or they may occur days or even weeks later. Sickness triggered by food poisoning usually lasts from a few hours to several days.
When to see a physician
If you encounter any of the following signs or symptoms, please find medical help.
Repeated incidents of vomiting and failure to keep liquids down
Bloody vomit or stools
Diarrhea that persists for more than three days
Severe pain or sharp abdominal cramping
An outer temperature higher than 100.4 F (38 C)
Symptoms or signs of dehydration — inordinate thirst, parched mouth, scarce or no urination, extreme weakness, faintness, dizziness or lightheadedness
Auditory symptoms such as blurry vision, muscle atrophy and shivering in the arms
Contamination of food can transpire at any point of production: growing, gathering, processing, storing, transportation or preparation. Cross-contamination — the transference of dangerous or toxic organisms from one covering/surface to another — is regularly the cause. This is specifically problematic for raw, ready-to-eat foods, such as salads and fruits or vegetables. Since these foods aren’t cooked, harmful organisms are not eliminated before eating and can produce food poisoning.
Numerous bacterial, viral or parasitic agents induce food poisoning. The subsequent list below provides some insight into some of the possible contaminants when you might start to feel symptoms and general ways the organism is spread.
We provided a list of the contaminant, when the onset of symptoms will likely occur and which foods are affected and means of transmission.
- Campylobacter – 2 to 5 days after consumption – Meat and poultry. Contamination happens during processing if animal feces contact meat surfaces. Other origins include unpasteurized milk and contaminated water.
- Clostridium botulinum – 12 to 72 hours consumption – Home-canned foods with low acidity, improperly canned commercial foods, smoked or salted fish, potatoes baked in aluminum foil, and other foods kept at warm temperatures for too long.
- Clostridium perfringens – 8 to 16 hours – Types of meat, stews, and gravies. Usually spread when serving dishes don’t keep food hot enough or food is cooled too slowly.
- Escherichia coli (E. coli) O157: H7 1 to 8 days – Beef contaminated with feces during slaughter. Spread primarily by undercooked ground beef. Other causes include unpasteurized milk and apple cider, alfalfa sprouts, and contaminated water.
- Giardia lamblia – 1 to 2 weeks after consumption – Raw, ready-to-eat food and contaminated water. This can be spread by an infected food handler.
- Hepatitis A – 28 days after consumption – Raw, ready-to-eat produce and shellfish from contaminated water. Can be dispersed and spread by an infected food handler.
- Listeria – 9 to 48 hours – Hot dogs, luncheon meats, unpasteurized milk and cheeses, and unwashed raw produce. Can be spread via contaminated soil and water.
- Noroviruses (Norwalk-like viruses) 12 to 48 hours Raw, ready-to-eat produce and shellfish from contaminated water. Can be dispersed by an infected food handler.
- Rotavirus 1 to 3 days after consumption – An tainted or infected food handler can spread raw, ready-to-eat produce.
- Salmonella – 1 to 3 days after consumption – Raw or contaminated meat, poultry, milk, or egg yolks. Survives inadequate cooking. Can be spread by knives, cutting surfaces or an infected food handler.
- Shigella – 24 to 48 hours after consumption – Seafood and raw, ready-to-eat produce. Can be spread by an infected food handler.
- Staphylococcus aureus – 1 to 6 hours after consumption – Meats and prepared salads, cream sauces, and cream-filled pastries. Can be dispersed by hand contact, coughing and sneezing.
- Vibrio vulnificus – 1 to 7 days after Raw consumption oysters and raw or undercooked mussels, clams, and whole scallops. Can be spread within polluted seawater.
What are the Risk factors
Whether you become ill after ingesting spoiled food depends on the type of organism, the amount of exposure, quality of food you ate, your age, and your overall health. High-risk groups include:
Older individuals. As you age, your immune system may respond as at a slower rate and not as fast or aggressively to contagious virus filled organisms as when you were youthful.
Pregnant women. Throughout pregnancy, changes in metabolism and circulation may increase the risk of food poisoning. Your reaction may be more severe during pregnancy. Seldomly, your children may get sick, too.
Infants and young children. Their immune systems have not fully developed.
Individuals with chronic disease. Having a chronic condition — such as AIDS, diabetes, and liver diseases — or receiving chemotherapy or radiation therapy for cancer diminishes your immune response.
The most frequent and serious complication of food poisoning is dehydration — a severe loss of water and vital salts and minerals. If you’re a healthy grown-up and consume enough to replace fluids such as water you lose from vomiting or regurgitation and diarrhea; dehydration shouldn’t be a predicament.
Children, older adults and people with suppressed and repressed immune systems or chronic illnesses may become seriously dehydrated when they dissipate and loss fluids than they can replace. In that case, they may require hospitalized and receive intravenous fluids. In extreme cases, dehydration can be fatal.
Some signs of food poisoning have possibly serious complications for certain people. These include:
Listeria monocytogenes. Complexity or complication of a listeria food poisoning may be most serious and critical for an unborn baby. Early in pregnancy, a listeria infection may prompt the risk of a miscarriage. Later in pregnancy, listeria contamination may lead to stillbirth, premature birth or a potentially fatal infection in the baby following birth — even if the mother was only mildly ill. Infants who survive a listeria infection may experience long-term neurological damage and delayed development.
Escherichia coli (E. coli). Certain E. coli strains can cause a serious complication referred to as hemolytic uremic syndrome. This syndrome destroys the lining of the tiny blood vessels in the kidneys, sometimes leading to kidney failure. Older adults, children younger than 5 and people with impaired immune systems have a higher risk of producing this complication. If you’re in one of these risk classifications, see your physician at the first sign of profuse or bloody diarrhea.
To prevent food poisoning at home:
Continually wash your hands, utensils and food surfaces often. Wash your hands fully and completely with warm, soapy water before and after handling or preparing food. Use hot, soapy water to your cutting board, wash utensils and other surfaces you use.
Keep raw foods separate from ready-to-eat foods. When shopping, planning your food or storing food, keep raw meat, poultry, fish, and shellfish away from other foods. This inhibits cross-contamination.
Cook foods to a safe temperature. The best way to consider if foods are prepared to a safe temperature is to use a food thermostat. You can remove harmful organisms in most foods by preparing and cooking them to the right temperature.
Make sure to cook ground beef to 160 F (71.1 C); steaks, chops, and roasts, such as lamb, pork, and veal, to at least 145 F (62.8 C). You should also cook turkey and chicken at 165 F (73.9 C). Make sure fish and shellfish are cooked thoroughly.
Refrigerate or freeze perishable foods immediately — within two hours of buying or preparing the foods. If the room temperature is higher than 90 F (32.2 C), refrigerate perishable foods within one hour.
Defrost and thaw food safely. Don’t thaw food at room temperature. The dependable way to thaw food is to defrost it in the refrigerator. If you microwave frozen food using the “defrost” or “50 percent power” setting, be sure to cook it immediately.
Throw it out when in doubt. If you aren’t assured that food has been developed, served or stored safely, you should get rid of it. It’s not worth getting sick over. Food left at room temperature too long may include bacteria or toxins that can’t be destroyed by cooking. Don’t taste food that you’re unsure about — throw it out. Even if it looks and smells fine, it may not be safe to eat.
Food poisoning is particularly serious and potentially life-threatening for young children, pregnant women and their fetuses, older adults, and people with weakened immune systems. These people should take extra precautions by bypassing the following foods:
- Raw or undercooked fish or shellfish, including scallops, clams, mussels, and oyster
- Raw or rare meat and poultry
- Raw or undercooked eggs or foods that can include them, such as homemade ice cream and cookie dough.
- Raw Brussels sprouts, alfalfa, clover, bean, and radish sprouts
- Unpasteurized juices and ciders
- Soft cheeses, such as Brie, feta and Camembert; blue-veined cheese; and unpasteurized cheese
- Unpasteurized milk and milk products
- Refrigerated pates and meat spreads
- Uncooked hot dogs, deli meats, and luncheon meats.
Food poisoning is frequently diagnosed based on a detailed history, including how long you’ve been ill, your symptoms and specific foods you’ve eaten. Your physician will also conduct a physical exam, looking for signs of dehydration.
Depending on your symptoms and health history, your doctor may conduct diagnostic tests, such as a blood test, stool culture or examination for parasites, to identify the cause and confirm the diagnosis.
For a stool culture, your physician will send a sample of your stool to a laboratory, where a specialist or lab technician will try to recognize the infectious organism. If an organism is determined, your physician likely will inform your local health department to ascertain if the food poisoning is linked to an outbreak.
In some cases, the condition of food poisoning can’t be identified.
Treatment for food poisoning primary based on the source of the illness, if identified, and the severity of your signs and symptoms. For most people, the illness resolves without medication within a few days, though some types of food poisoning may last longer.
Treatment of food poisoning may include:
Replacement of lost fluids. Fluids and electrolytes — minerals such as calcium, potassium, and sodium that maintain the balance of fluids in your body — lost to constant diarrhea need to be restored. Some children and adults with steadfast diarrhea or vomiting may necessitate hospitalization, where they can obtain salts and fluids through a vein (intravenously), to stop or treat dehydration.
Antibiotics. Your physician may prescribe antibiotics if you have certain kinds of bacterial food poisoning and your symptoms are severe. Food poisoning caused by listeria needs to be treated with intravenous antibiotics during hospitalization. The sooner treatment begins, the better. During pregnancy, prompt antibiotic treatment may help keep the infection from affecting the baby.
Antibiotics will not help food poisoning produced by viruses. Antibiotics may worsen symptoms of certain kinds of viral or bacterial food poisoning. Talk to your doctor about your options.
Adults with diarrhea that isn’t bloody and who have no fever may get relief from taking the medicine loperamide (Imodium A-D) or bismuth subsalicylate (Pepto-Bismol). Ask your physician about these options.
Lifestyle and home remedies
Food poisoning will get better without treatment within 48 hours. To remain comfortable and prevent dehydration while you recover, you should try the following:
Let your stomach settle. Do not eat or drink anything for a few hours.
Try sucking on ice chips or having small sips of water. You might also try consuming clear soda, clear broth, you can also try noncaffeinated sports drinks, such as Gatorade: However you should try to avoid sugary drinks. You’re receiving enough fluid when you’re urinating ordinarily, and your urine is clear and not dark.
Slowly ease back into eating. Cautiously begin to eat bland, low-fat, easy-to-digest foods, such as soda crackers, toast, gelatin, bananas, and rice. Stop eating if your nausea returns.
Avoid certain foods and substances till you’re feeling better. These include dairy products, alcohol, caffeine, nicotine, and fatty or highly seasoned or spicy foods.
Rest. The illness and dehydration can weaken and tire you.
Preparing for your appointment
If you or your child requires seeing a physician, you’ll likely see your primary care provider first. If there are questions about the diagnosis, your doctor may refer you to an infectious disease specialist.
What can you do to prepare?
Developing a list of questions will assist in making the most of your time with your doctor. Some questions to ask include:
Is there a need for you to undergo tests?
What’s the likely cause of the symptoms? Are there other possible causes?
How can I ease the symptoms?
Does this require medication? If yes, is there a generic alternative to the medicine you’re prescribing?
What’s the best treatment approach? Are there alternatives?
What should you expect from your doctor
Some questions the doctor may ask include:
- Has someone in your family or otherwise close to you manifested similar symptoms? If so, did you eat the same things?
- Have you traveled anywhere where the water or food might not be safe?
- Do you have bloody bowel movements?
- When did symptoms begin?
- Had you used antibiotics in the days or weeks before your symptoms started?
- Do you have a fever?
- Have the symptoms been constant, or are they intermittent?
- What foods have you eaten in the past few days?
- What are some of the things you can do in the meantime?
- Drink plenty of fluids. Only consume bland foods to reduce pressure and strain on your digestive system. If your child is ill, heed the same approach —
- offer loads of fluids and bland food. If you’re breast-feeding or using formula, proceed to feed your child as usual.
Ask your child’s physician if giving your child an oral rehydration fluid (Pedialyte, Enfalyte, others) is suitable. Older adults and people with impaired immune systems might also benefit from oral rehydration liquids. Medications that help alleviate diarrhea are not recommended for children.