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Food Poisoning

(Foodborne Disease; Foodborne Infection)

En Español (Spanish Version)

Definition | Causes | Risk Factors | Symptoms | Diagnosis | Treatment | Prevention


Food poisoning is a disease that is carried or transmitted to humans by contaminated foods or beverages.

Gastrointestinal System

Copyright © Nucleus Medical Media, Inc.


Food poisoning is caused by substances in foods or beverages, including:

  • Bacteria
  • Poisons produced by bacteria
  • Viruses
  • Amoeba or parasites
  • Chemicals

Risk Factors

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
  • Age: infants and elderly


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:

  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Stomach pain
  • Dehydration—if vomiting or diarrhea is severe
  • Neurologic symptoms, including headache, lightheadedness, visual disturbances, and seizures
  • Poor urine output
  • Cramps
  • Bloody stools, bloody vomit
  • Fever, chills
  • Muscle aches and pains
  • Weakness


The doctor will ask about your symptoms and medical history. A physical exam will be done. You may be asked to provide a sample of your stool or vomit for testing. If you have some of the food that you think made you sick, you may be asked to bring it in to be tested. Blood tests may be done to asses kidney function, blood salts and acid-base balance, and the presence of a blood infection. A urinalysis may also be performed.


Most types of food poisoning improve in 12-48 hours. There aren't many treatments available to speed your recovery from food poisoning.

Treatments include:

Drink plenty of fluids. If you are severely ill, you may need IV fluids.

Some types of bacterial food poisoning can be treated with antibiotics.

This includes the following:

  • Take acetaminophen for fever, aches, and pains.
  • Place a hot water bottle or heating pad on your stomach to help relieve abdominal pain.
  • 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 have botulism poisoning, there is an antitoxin you can take.

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 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 can your own food, follow sterilization directions carefully.
  • 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



Conn HF, Rakel R. Conn’s Current Therapy. 54th ed. Philadelphia, PA: WB Saunders Company; 2002.

Food poisoning. American Academy of Family Physicians. Family Doctor.org website. Available at: http://familydoctor.org/online/famdocen/home/healthy/firstaid/basics/923.html. Updated February 2011. Accessed March 22, 2013.

Food poisoning. FoodSafety.gov website. Available at: http://www.foodsafety.gov/poisoning/index.html. Accessed March 22, 2013.

Food poisoning. Nemours' KidsHealth.org website. Available at: http://kidshealth.org/kid/ill_injure/sick/food_poisoning.html. Updated March 2012. Accessed March 22, 2013.

Sleisenger M, Fordtran J, Feldman M, Scharschmidt B. Sleisenger & Fordtran's Gastrointestinal and Liver Disease. 6th ed. Philadelphia, PA: WB Saunders Company; 1998.

Last reviewed September 2012 by Daus Mahnke, 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.

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