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Food Poisoning - Symptoms, Causes, Diagnosis, Treatment and Prevention

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Food Poisoning - Symptoms, Causes, Diagnosis, Treatment and Prevention

4 min read


Food poisoning is caused by eating food contaminated with bacteria or other pathogens, which results in vomiting, diarrhea, and stomach pain. Read to know more.

Medically reviewed by

Dr. Jagdish Singh

Published At October 23, 2019
Reviewed AtApril 2, 2024

What Is Food Poisoning?

Food poisoning, otherwise called foodborne illness, is caused by eating food contaminated with infectious organisms (bacteria, viruses, and parasites) or toxins or eating spoiled food. Food can get contaminated at any stage of processing, production, or preparation. The symptoms start within hours of eating food contaminated with toxins. The symptoms include nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea (watery and loose stool). Mostly, food poisoning is mild and does not require treatment. However, in severe cases, it can cause dehydration and might require hospitalization. It is a common infection, and according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), one in six people in the United States gets some kind of food poisoning every year.

What Are the Symptoms of Food Poisoning?

Depending on the cause of the infection, a person’s symptoms and the length of the symptoms can vary. As soon as one eats contaminated food, one might start having symptoms anywhere from an hour to 28 days.

The common symptoms of food poisoning are:

  • Stomach cramps.

  • Diarrhea.

  • Nausea.

  • Vomiting.

  • Loss of appetite.

  • Chills.

  • Muscle pain.

  • Fever.

  • Tiredness.

  • Headaches.

Get immediate medical help in case of:

  • Diarrhea for more than three days.

  • 101.5 degrees Fahrenheit or higher fever.

  • Difficulty with speaking.

  • Vision problems.

  • Dry mouth.

  • Passing no urine.

  • Tingling and numbness in extremities.

  • Bloating.

  • Seizures (uncontrollable electrical activity in the brain).

  • Frequent vomiting.

  • Blood in the urine.

What Are the Risk Factors for Food Poisoning?

People who are at a higher risk of developing food poisoning are children, pregnant women, older adults, immunocompromised individuals, and people with diabetes, liver or kidney disease.

What Are the Causes of Food Poisoning?

The common causes of food poisoning and their possible timeline are as follows:

1. Viruses and Bacteria - Viruses are the number one cause of food poisoning followed by bacteria. The most common microorganisms that cause food poisoning are:

  • Norovirus - Symptoms appear in 12 to 48 hours.

  • Salmonella - Symptoms appear in six hours to six days.

  • Clostridium Perfringens - Symptoms appear within six to 24 hours.

  • Campylobacter - Symptoms appear within two to five days.

  • Staphylococcus Aureus - Symptoms appear in 30 minutes to eight hours.

  • Toxoplasma gondii.

  • Escherichia coli (E. coli) - Symptoms appear in three to four days, or one to ten days, possibly.

  • Listeria Monocytogenes - Symptoms appear in nine to 48 hours.

  • Shigella - Symptoms appear within one to two days or a maximum of seven days.

  • Rotavirus - Symptoms are visible in 18 to 36 hours.

  • Hepatitis A - Symptoms are visible in 15 to 50 days.

2. Toxins - Toxins produced by bacteria, plants, and animals (fish) can cause food poisoning if they are ingested. The common toxins include:

  • Bacteria - Enterotoxins, Exotoxins, Neurotoxins.

  • Plants - Mushroom toxins, Ricin, Hemlock.

  • Animals - Scombroid toxin, Sasitoxin, Tetrodotoxin.

3. Parasites - Some of the parasites that can cause food poisoning are:

  • Amoeba.

  • Giardia - Symptoms are visible within one to two weeks.

  • Trichinella.

4. Chemicals - Chemicals like mercury in drinking water and fish can enter the body and cause food poisoning. Even if chemicals like pesticides, polychlorinated biphenyls, and lead in food, can cause vomiting and diarrhea.

How Is Food Poisoning Diagnosed?

The doctor will diagnose this condition after taking a detailed history of how long one is having symptoms and what food they have eaten. The doctor will also look for signs of dehydration dry mouth.

If needed, the doctor will suggest getting diagnostic tests like a blood test and stool culture to identify the cause of food poisoning. The causative organism is detected in the stool sample sent to the laboratory.

How Is Food Poisoning Treated?

Food poisoning treatment depends on the cause and the severity of the symptoms. Most people get better on their own without any treatment on some days, but for some, it may last longer. The treatment includes:

  • Fluid Replacement - Fluids and electrolytes like sodium, potassium, and calcium lost due to vomiting and diarrhea have to be replaced. Oral rehydration solutions (ORS) are commercially available for this purpose. For severe dehydration, fluids through IV (intravenous) have to be administered in the hospital.

  • Antibiotics - For infections caused by bacteria, the doctor will prescribe antibiotics. Infection caused by bacteria listeria is treated with IV antibiotics. In pregnant women, the infection can affect the baby, so antibiotics have to be given promptly. Antibiotics will not be effective against food poisoning caused by viruses.

  • Loperamide and Bismuth Subsalicylate - Can help adults with diarrhea.

Home Remedies:

Usually, food poisoning improves within 48 hours without treatment. To prevent complications like dehydration, try the following:

  • Avoid eating for a few hours and give the stomach some time to heal.

  • Rest.

  • Keep sipping water or ORS to prevent dehydration.

  • Start eating nonspicy and low-fat foods.

  • Avoid eating dairy products, caffeine, alcohol, and oily food.

  • Drink herbal tea.

What to Eat in Case of Food Poisoning?

Foods that one can eat during food poisoning include:

  • Bananas.

  • Rice.

  • Clear soup.

  • Boiled vegetables.

  • Toast.

  • Fruit juices.

  • Oats.

What Are the Safety Measures for People at Risk of Food Poisoning?

  • Milk and milk products.

  • High fatty food.

  • Unpasteurized sugary drinks and juices.

  • Spicy food.

  • Fried foods.

  • Alcohol.

  • Caffeinated beverages.

  • Undercooked or raw poultry, meat, shellfish, and fish.

  • Raw eggs or any food containing eggs.

  • Raw sprouts.

What Are the Complications of Food Poisoning?

  • Dehydration or severe water, mineral, and salt loss.

  • Systemic diseases may also occur, such as meningitis (inflammation of the brain), blood clots in the kidneys, sepsis (the body’s extreme response to infection), and bacteria in the bloodstream.

  • Pregnancy complications, such as sepsis in newborn babies, stillbirth, miscarriage, and meningitis in newborns.

  • Rare complications, such as Guillian-Barre syndrome (attack of the immune system on nerves), arthritis (joint inflammation), breathing difficulties, and irritable bowel syndrome (gastrointestinal disorder).

Can Food Poisoning Be Prevented?

One can reduce the risk of food poisoning by:

  • Wash hands frequently and properly.

  • Cook meats properly to the right temperature.

  • Do not mix raw food with cooked food.

  • Refrigerate food that will get spoiled properly.

  • Do not eat spoiled or old food.

  • Drink pasteurized milk.

  • Wash fruits and vegetables properly.


If the symptoms do not improve within 48 hours, it is best to consult a doctor. Persistent vomiting and diarrhea can result in severe dehydration, which can be life-threatening in infants, older adults, and immunocompromised individuals. For more information on food poisoning, consult a medical gastroenterologist.

Frequently Asked Questions


How Long Does Food Poisoning Last?

In most cases, the duration of food poisoning lasts for about one or two days. The symptoms usually resolve on their own. If symptoms persist longer than that, the patient should consult a doctor. Infections like Cyclospora may be difficult to identify and diarrhea may last for weeks.


What Are the Signs of Food Poisoning?

The signs of food poisoning are vomiting, diarrhea, abdominal pain, muscle pain, fever, dehydration, nausea, and headache. The symptoms might usually resolve by itself.


What Are Ways to Prevent Food Poisoning?

Always wash your hands before and after cooking food. Wash the utensils, cutting boards, and knives with soap and water. Place the raw meat and eggs separate from other food items in the refrigerator. Use a different vessel for cooking meat, fish, and chicken. Do not drink milk that is not boiled.


Can Food Poisoning Be Transmitted?

Food poisoning, which is caused by viruses, can be transmitted from person to person. It is also possible to spread the virus to other people when you prepare food or drinks with highly contaminated hands. Foodborne viruses that are contagious spread through indirect contact also. Throughout the day, there are possibilities that you might touch different objects and contaminate them.


What Are the Home Remedies for Food Poisoning?

The home remedies for food poisoning is ginger tea. After you are feeling well again, you may wish to replace your normal intestinal flora with natural yogurts. These food items which are easily available at home might help your body regenerate the healthy bacteria that is lost in the food poisoning purge and get your digestive system and immune system back to normal.


How Long Does Stomach Hurt After Food Poisoning?

Abdominal cramps in your stomach, diarrhea, and vomiting may happen immediately after 1 hour of eating contaminated food. It can last for 10 days or longer. The other possible symptoms are a variety of food poisonings such as bloating and gas.


Is Diarrhea a Symptom of Food Poisoning?

Food poisoning symptoms start within a few hours of eating contaminated food often include nausea, vomiting or diarrhea. Food poisoning is mild and it usually resolves without any treatment. Diarrhea is known to be accompanied by abdominal pain.


Can Food Poisoning Cause a Fever?

A fever is a basic symptom that can accompany along with various other illnesses. Fever can occur in food poisoning and other infections. It can be taken as a sign that something is not alright with the body. This is the time you should provide additional care to the body.


What Are the Food Which Can Cause Food Poisoning?

Unboiled milk, raw meat, and fish are known to cause a wide range of food poisoning. Raw fruits and vegetables might become poisonous. Rice, which was cooked long ago, can become contaminated. Eggs that are stored for a long time can be contaminated too.


What Is the Difference Between Stomach Flu and Food Poisoning?

Although both the symptoms might be similar, there are few ways to identify the difference between stomach flu and food poisoning. They are:
1. Bloody diarrhea is a symptom of food poisoning.
2. Projectile vomiting, along with abdominal cramps, are often caused by virus infections. This might be an indication of the flu.
Dr. Jagdish Singh
Dr. Jagdish Singh

Medical Gastroenterology


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