(Foodborne Disease; Foodborne Infection)
Food poisoning is a disease that is carried or transmitted to humans by contaminated foods or beverages.
Food poisoning is caused by substances in foods or beverages, including:
- Poisons produced by bacteria
- Amoeba or parasites
Infants and the elderly are at increased risk for food poisoning. Other factors that increase your chances of getting food poisoning include:
- Poor hygiene
- Poor refrigeration
- Lack of knowledge of safe food preparation
- Weakened immune system, including during pregnancy
After you consume the contaminated food or beverage, there is a delay before symptoms arise. This delay is called an incubation period. It can last hours or weeks. Symptoms include:
You will be asked about your symptoms and medical history. A physical exam will be done. If you have some of the food that you think made you sick, you may be asked to bring it in to be tested.
Your bodily fluids may be tested. This can be done with:
- Blood tests
- Urine tests
- Stool tests
- Vomit tests
Most types of food poisoning improve in 12-48 hours. There aren't many treatments available to speed your recovery from food poisoning.
This includes the following:
- Take acetaminophen for fever, aches, and pains.
- Start by drinking only clear liquids or sucking on ice chips. Then, try eating soft, bland foods if you can do so without vomiting.
- If consuming milk products worsens symptoms, avoid them for several days.
- Check with your doctor before you use antidiarrheal medications.
If you are diagnosed with food poisoning, follow your doctor's instructions.
To help prevent food poisoning:
- Only eat and drink milk products that are pasteurized.
- Wash your hands thoroughly before touching food.
- Cook foods thoroughly.
- Always rinse fresh fruits and vegetables before eating them. Peel away any skin or rind.
- Be particularly careful when preparing chicken.
- Never put cooked meat on a surface that previously had raw meat on it.
- Use separate cutting boards for meat and other foods.
- Don't prepare any recipes that use raw egg. You can use powdered egg products in place of a fresh egg.
- Don't eat prepared food that has been outside a refrigerator for more than two hours, or one hour in very hot weather.
- Set your refrigerator temperature to below 40°F (4ºC).
- If you have a weakened immune system or are pregnant, don't eat raw shellfish, rare meat, or unpasteurized dairy products.
If you are traveling:
- Drink bottled water, not tap water.
- Don't order drinks with ice.
- Eat cooked fruits and vegetables instead of raw ones.
- Don't eat food from street vendors.
American Gastroenterological Association
Gateway to Government Information About Food Safety
The Canadian Association of Gastroenterology
Canadian Partnership for Consumer Food Safety Education
Food poisoning. American Academy of Family Physicians website. Available at: http://familydoctor.org/online/famdocen/home/healthy/firstaid/basics/923.html. Updated February 2011. Accessed December 16, 2013.
Food poisoning. FoodSafety.gov website. Available at: http://www.foodsafety.gov/poisoning/index.html. Accessed December 16, 2013.
Food poisoning. Nemours' KidsHealth.org website. Available at: http://kidshealth.org/kid/ill_injure/sick/food_poisoning.html. Updated March 2012. Accessed December 16, 2013.
Last reviewed December 2013 by Peter Lucas, MD
Please be aware that this information is provided to supplement the care provided by your physician. It is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. CALL YOUR HEALTHCARE PROVIDER IMMEDIATELY IF YOU THINK YOU MAY HAVE A MEDICAL EMERGENCY. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.