Food Poisoning

Food poisoning is an illness caused by something you ate or drank. There are over 250 known causes of food poisoning. However, many other causes are unknown. You can be treated even if the exact cause of your food poisoning is not known. In most cases, food poisoning is mild and lasts 1 to 2 days. However, some cases can be serious, especially for people with low immune systems, the elderly, children and infants, and pregnant women.


Poor personal hygiene, improper cleaning of storage and preparation areas, and unclean utensils can cause infection or tainting (contamination) of foods. The causes of food poisoning are numerous. Infectious agents, such as viruses, bacteria, or parasites, can cause harm by infecting the intestine and disrupting the absorption of nutrients and water. This can cause diarrhea and lead to dehydration. Viruses are responsible for most of the food poisonings in which an agent is found. Parasites are less likely to cause food poisoning. Toxic agents, such as poisonous mushrooms, marine algae, and pesticides can also cause food poisoning.

  • Viral causes of food poisoning include:

  • Norovirus.

  • Rotavirus.

  • Hepatitis A.

  • Bacterial causes of food poisoning include:

  • Salmonellae.

  • Campylobacter.

  • Bacillus cereus.

  • Escherichia coli (E. coli).

  • Shigella.

  • Listeria monocytogenes.

  • Clostridium botulinum (botulism).

  • Vibrio cholerae.

  • Parasites that can cause food poisoning include:

  • Giardia.

  • Cryptosporidium.

  • Toxoplasma.


Symptoms may appear several hours or longer after consuming the contaminated food or drink. Symptoms may include:

  • Nausea.

  • Vomiting.

  • Cramping.

  • Diarrhea.

  • Fever and chills.

  • Muscle aches.


Your caregiver may be able to diagnose food poisoning from a list of what you have recently eaten and results from lab tests. Diagnostic tests may include an exam of the feces.


In most cases, treatment focuses on helping to relieve your symptoms and staying well hydrated. Antibiotics are rarely needed. In severe cases, hospitalization may be required.


  • Wash your hands, food preparation surfaces, and utensils thoroughly before and after handling raw foods.

  • Keep refrigerated foods below 40° F (5° C).

  • Serve hot foods immediately or keep them heated above 140° F (60° C).

  • Divide large volumes of food into small portions for rapid cooling in the refrigerator. Hot, bulky foods in the refrigerator can raise the temperature of other foods that have already cooled.

  • Follow approved canning procedures.

  • Heat canned foods thoroughly before tasting.

  • When in doubt, throw it out.

  • Infants, the elderly, women who are pregnant, and people with compromised immune systems are especially susceptible to food poisoning. These people should never consume unpasteurized cheese, unpasteurized cider, raw fish, raw seafood, or raw meat type products.


  • Drink enough water and fluids to keep your urine clear or pale yellow. Drink small amounts of fluids frequently and increase as tolerated.

  • Ask your caregiver for specific rehydration instructions.

  • Avoid:

  • Foods high in sugar.

  • Alcohol.

  • Carbonated drinks.

  • Tobacco.

  • Juice.

  • Caffeine drinks.

  • Extremely hot or cold fluids.

  • Fatty, greasy foods.

  • Too much intake of anything at one time.

  • Dairy products until 24 to 48 hours after diarrhea stops.

  • You may consume probiotics. Probiotics are active cultures of beneficial bacteria. They may lessen the amount and number of diarrheal stools in adults. Probiotics can be found in yogurt with active cultures and in supplements.

  • Wash your hands well to avoid spreading the bacteria.

  • Only take over-the-counter or prescription medicines for pain, discomfort, or fever as directed by your caregiver. Do not give aspirin to children.

  • Ask your caregiver if you should continue to take your regular prescribed and over-the-counter medicines.


  • You have difficulty breathing, swallowing, talking, or moving.

  • You develop blurred vision.

  • You are unable to keep fluids down.

  • You faint or nearly faint.

  • Your eyes turn yellow.

  • Vomiting or diarrhea develops or becomes persistent.

  • Abdominal pain develops, increases, or localizes in one small area.

  • You have a fever.

  • The diarrhea becomes excessive or contains blood or mucus.

  • You develop excessive weakness, dizziness, or extreme thirst.

  • You have no urine for 8 hours.


  • Understand these instructions.

  • Will watch your condition.

  • Will get help right away if you are not doing well or get worse.