What is food poisoning?
Food borne illness, more commonly referred to as food poisoning, is the result of eating contaminated, spoiled, or toxic food. The most common symptoms of food poisoning include nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea.
Although it’s quite uncomfortable, food poisoning isn’t unusual. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention , 1 in 6 Americans will contract some form of food poisoning every year.
Food poisoning symptoms may range from mild to severe and may differ depending on the germ you swallowed. The most common symptoms of food poisoning are:
- Upset stomach
- Stomach cramps
After you consume a contaminated food or drink, it may take hours or days before you develop symptoms. If you experience symptoms of food poisoning, such as diarrhea or vomiting, drink plenty of fluids to prevent dehydration.
When to See a Doctor for Food Poisoning
See your doctor or healthcare provider if you have symptoms that are severe, including:
- Bloody stools
- High fever (temperature over 102°F, measured orally)
- Frequent vomiting that prevents keeping liquids down (which can lead to dehydration)
- Signs of dehydration, including little or no urination, a very dry mouth and throat, or feeling dizzy when standing up
- Diarrhea that lasts more than 3 days
Complications and Long-Term Effects From Food Poisoning
Most people have only mild illnesses, lasting a few hours to several days. However, some people need to be hospitalized, and some illnesses result in long-term health problems external or even death. Infections transmitted by food can result in:
- Chronic arthritis
- Brain and nerve damage
- Hemolytic uremic syndrome (HUS) resulting in kidney failure
Symptoms and Sources of Common Food Poisoning Germs
Some germs make you sick within a few hours after you swallow them. Others may take a few days to make you sick. This list provides the symptoms, when symptoms begin, and common food sources for germs that cause food poisoning. The germs are arranged in order of how quickly symptoms begin.
- Symptoms begin 30 minutes – 6 hours after exposure: Nausea, vomiting, stomach cramps. Most people also have diarrhea.
- Common food sources: Foods that are not cooked after handling, such as sliced meats, puddings, pastries, and sandwiches.
- Symptoms begin 6 – 24 hours after exposure: Diarrhea, stomach cramps. Vomiting and fever are uncommon. Usually begins suddenly and lasts for less than 24 hours.
- Common food sources: Beef or poultry, especially large roasts; gravies; dried or precooked foods
- Symptoms begin 6 hours – 6 days after exposure: Diarrhea, fever, stomach cramps, vomiting
- Common food sources: Raw or undercooked chicken, turkey, and meat; eggs; unpasteurized (raw) milk and juice; raw fruits and vegetables
Other sources: Many animals, including backyard poultry, reptiles and amphibians, and rodents (pocket pets)
- Symptoms begin 12 – 48 hours after exposure: Diarrhea, nausea/stomach pain, vomiting
- Common food sources: Contaminated food like leafy greens, fresh fruits, shellfish (such as oysters), or water
Other sources: Infected person; touching contaminated surfaces
Clostridium botulinum (Botulism)
- Symptoms begin 18 – 36 hours after exposure: Double or blurred vision, drooping eyelids, slurred speech. Difficulty swallowing, breathing and dry mouth. Muscle weakness and paralysis. Symptoms start in the head and move down as severity increases.
- Common food sources: Improperly canned or fermented foods, usually homemade. Prison-made illicit alcohol.
- Symptoms begin 1 – 4 days after exposure: Watery diarrhea, nausea. Stomach cramps, vomiting, fever, chills
- Common food sources: Raw or undercooked shellfish, particularly oysters
- Symptoms begin 2 – 5 days after exposure: Diarrhea (often bloody), stomach cramps/pain, fever
- Common food sources: Raw or undercooked poultry, raw (unpasteurized) milk, and contaminated water
E. coli (Escherichia coli)
- Symptoms begin 3 – 4 days after exposure: Severe stomach cramps, diarrhea (often bloody), and vomiting. Around 5–10% of people diagnosed with this infection develop a life-threatening complication.
- Common food sources: Raw or undercooked ground beef, raw (unpasteurized) milk and juice, raw vegetables (such as lettuce), raw sprouts, contaminated water
- Symptoms begin 1 week after exposure: Watery diarrhea, loss of appetite, and weight loss. Stomach cramps/pain, bloating, increased gas, nausea, and fatigue.
- Common food sources: Raw fruits or vegetables and herbs
- Symptoms begin 1 – 4 weeks after exposure: Pregnant women typically experience fever and other flu-like symptoms, such as fatigue and muscle aches. Infections during pregnancy can lead to serious illness or even death in newborns.
Other people (most often older adults): headache, stiff neck, confusion, loss of balance, and convulsions in addition to fever and muscle aches.
- Common food sources: Queso fresco and other soft cheeses, raw sprouts, melons, hot dogs, pâtés, deli meats, smoked seafood, and raw (unpasteurized) milk.