Food Poisoning Symptoms

  • Symptoms

    Sudden nausea, vomiting, abdominal pain, and diarrhea are typical symptoms of food poisoning. Depending on the cause, fever and chills, weakness, headache, and bloody stool may be present as well Table 02. The symptoms and severity of food poisoning depend on what has caused it and the amount of food that has been eaten. Mild food poisoning is often chalked up to “the stomach flu,” and typically leaves you with no appetite and feeling sick to your stomach. Abdominal cramping, vomiting, and diarrhea tend to be at their worst at the start of the illness; and the symptoms taper off over the course of a few days, but you'll still likely feel weak and tired. Severe vomiting and diarrhea can cause dehydration and lead to electrolyte imbalances, which can be serious and require medical attention.

    Table 2.  Symptoms of Common Bacterial Food Poisonings

    Bacterial poisoning Symptoms
    Camplyobacteriosis Fever, diarrhea, and bloody stool two to five days after eating a contaminated food. Usually mild, the infection can trigger Guillain-Barre syndrome (a problem in which the immune system attacks the body?s nerves and may cause paralysis or even death).
    Botulism Eye problems such as double vision, drooping eyelids and an inability to focus on nearby objects; difficulty swallowing or breathing; nausea, vomiting, cramps, and diarrhea, usually within 18-36 hours of eating a contaminated food. The infection is very serious and can be fatal.
    E. coli Nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea; headaches and muscle aches within one to eight days of eating a contaminated food. In children, the infection could cause kidney failure and death.
    Listeriosis Fever, muscle aches, fatigue, and nausea. Some victims develop meningitis. The infection can be a serious threat to pregnant women who may deliver prematurely, or have an infected infant or stillbirth.
    Salmonellosis Nausea, vomiting, cramps, and diarrhea within 48 hours of eating the offending food. The illness can be fatal in infants, older adults, and people with weakened immune systems.
    Shigellosis Abdominal cramps and pain, nausea and vomiting, watery diarrhea, bloody stool, and fever within one to seven days. The infection can be serious in infants, older adults, and people with weakened immune systems.
    Staphylococcus Diarrhea and nausea/vomiting within two to eight hours.
    Vibrios Diarrheal illness or sepsis syndrome in compromised hosts
  • Risk Factors

    Improper storage, handling, or preparation of food increases the likelihood of food poisoning. Practically every food contains some bacteria, but most of them are harmless or get destroyed by cooking. It's when foods are improperly stored, handled, or cooked that they become a threat. The proper temperature is key: refrigeration keeps most bacteria at bay, and cooking food thoroughly at a high heat kills nearly all types of bacteria. However, if foods are not refrigerated or cooked at the right temperature—particularly meat and poultry—they can be toxic. Undercooked beef and poultry are common sources of infection. Raw foods, too, can make you sick; raw eggs sometimes harbor harmful bacteria, making Caesar salads and cookie dough risky. In addition, raw fish—especially from polluted waters—served as sushi or sashimi can be a dangerous menu choice. Shellfish such as clams, oysters, and muscles live by filtering water, so there is a good chance they could make you sick if eaten raw.

    Food preparation is another avenue for contamination. Food-handlers who do not wash their hands before touching food or fail to sterilize cutting boards, knives, and other cooking utensils can carry harmful bacteria and viruses into the dishes they prepare. Delis, restaurants, and cafeterias have been responsible for many food poisoning outbreaks.

    Eating certain foods can increase risk of food poisoning. Chemical food poisoning occurs when poisonous plants or animals are eaten. There are several species of mushroom that are poisonous, as well as certain types of fish. The Japanese ruddy fish is a notorious deadly meal. Even mackerel and tuna can cause potentially deadly allergic reactions in some people. Shellfish can produce poisons that cause paralysis—even after it has been cooked.

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