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Food Poisoning


Disease: Food Poisoning Food Poisoning
Category: Digestive diseases

Disease Definition:

When a person eats contaminated food, they get food poisoning, which is also known as food-borne illness. The most common causes of food poisoning are infectious organisms, including various bacteria, parasites and viruses or their toxins.


Food could be contaminated by infectious organisms at any point during its processing or production. Contamination could occur at home in case food is stored inadequately, cooked improperly or handled incorrectly. After someone eats contaminated food, illness is not inevitable. The degree of contamination, the contaminant, the age of the person and health are some of the factors that its effects will depend on.

Work Group:

Prepared by: Scientific Section

Symptoms, Causes


Depending on the source of contamination, the effects of food poisoning could vary. One or more of these symptoms are caused by most types of food poisoning:


  • Vomiting
  • Abdominal pain
  • Nausea
  • Fever
  • Fatigue
  • Stomach cramps
  • Watery diarrhea
  • Loss of appetite


The signs and symptoms could start either days later, or within hours of eating the contaminated food. Usually, the sickness that is caused by food poisoning would last from one to ten days. A person should seek medical attention in case they experience any of these signs and symptoms:


  • Vomiting blood
  • Blood in bowel movements
  • Frequent episodes of vomiting for more than two days
  • An oral temperature higher than 38.6 C (101.5 F)
  • Inability to keep liquids down for 24 hours
  • Severe abdominal cramping or extreme pain
  • Dry mouth, excessive thirst, severe weakness, little or no urination, dizziness, lightheadedness, or other signs and symptoms of dehydration.
  • Severe diarrhea for more than three days


A person should contact their local health department in case they suspect food poisoning because their report could help the health department identify a potential outbreak and help prevent other people from getting sick. The person may need to recall what he/she ate, where they got the food and when they got sick, in addition to listing their symptoms.


Food could be contaminated at any point during its production: growing, harvesting, processing, storing, shipping or preparing. Usually, the cause is cross-contamination, which is the transfer of harmful organisms from one surface to another. This is particularly troublesome for raw and ready-to-eat foods, including salads or other produce. Harmful organisms are not destroyed before eating and could cause food poisoning because these foods are not cooked.


Food poisoning could be caused by many bacterial, viral or parasitic agents. Listed below are some of the possible contaminants, when the symptoms may start and common ways the organism is spread:

  • The symptoms of someone exposed to clostridium perfringens may start eight to sixteen hours of exposure. This contaminant usually spreads when food is chilled too slowly or when the serving dishes aren't kept hot enough. Meats, gravies and stews can be contaminated with clostridium perfringens.


  • In case someone has been exposed to giardia lamblia, the signs and symptoms will start in one to two weeks after exposure. This contaminant is usually spread by an infected food handler. It is usually found in contaminated water and raw, ready-to-eat produce.


  • If someone is exposed to campylobacter, the signs and symptoms will start in two to five days of exposure. In this case, the contamination usually occurs during processing if animal feces contact meat surfaces. It is usually found in contaminated water, unpasteurized milk, meat and poultry.


  • In case someone has been exposed to Escherichia coli (E. coli) O157:H7, their signs and symptoms will start showing in one to eight days after exposure. E. coli is mainly spread by undercooked ground beef. This contaminant may be found in apple cider, contaminated water, beef contaminated during slaughter, alfalfa sprouts and unpasteurized milk.


  • If someone has been exposed to listeria, their signs and symptoms will begin in nine to 48 hours of exposure. This contaminant can be spread via contaminated water and soil. Listeria is usually found in luncheon meats, unwashed raw produce, hot dogs and unpasteurized milk and cheese.


  • The symptoms of hepatitis A start after 28 days of exposure. Hepatitis A is usually spread by an infected food handler. It is mainly found in contaminated water, shellfish and raw, ready-to-eat produce.


  • If someone has been exposed to vibrio vulnificus, their signs and symptoms will start in one to seven days after exposure. Vibrio vulnificus can spread through contaminated seawater. This contaminant is usually found in raw or undercooked mussels, clams and whole scallops, or in raw oysters.


  • The signs and symptoms of someone exposed to salmonella will begin in one to three days after exposure. Salmonella is usually spread by an infected food handler, knives and cutting surfaces. This contaminant is usually found in raw or contaminated meat, milk, egg yolks or poultry.


  • If someone has been exposed to staphylococcus aureus, their signs and symptoms will start one to six hours of exposure. This contaminant can be spread by sneezing, coughing and hand contact. It is usually found in cream-filled pastries, cream sauces and meats and prepared salads.


  • The signs and symptoms of someone exposed to rotavirus will begin in one to three days of exposure. This virus can be spread by an infected food handler and is usually found in raw, ready-to-ear produce.


  • The signs and symptoms of someone exposed to shigella will begin 24 to 48 hours of exposure. This contaminant can be spread by an infected food handler and is usually found in raw, ready-to-eat produce.


  • In case someone has been exposed to noroviruses (Norwalk-like viruses), their signs and symptoms will start in twelve to 48 hours of exposure. Noroviruses can be spread by an infected food handler and are usually found in shellfish from contaminated water and raw, ready-to-eat produce.



Dehydration, which is a severe loss of water and essential salts and minerals, is the most common serious complication of food poisoning. In case the patient a healthy adult, dehydration shouldn't be a problem. They should drink enough to replace the fluids they've lost from diarrhea and vomiting. However, when infants, older people and people with suppressed immune systems or chronic illnesses lose more fluids than they could replace, they could become severely dehydrated; they need to be hospitalized and receive intravenous fluids. Dehydration could be fatal in some extreme cases.


Certain people could experience some potentially serious complications due to certain types of food poisoning, such as:


E. coli (Escherichia coli):

A serious complication called hemolytic uremic syndrome may be caused by certain strains of E. coli, which could damage the lining of the tiny blood vessels in the kidneys, leading to kidney failure in some cases. Children under the age of 5, people with weakened immune systems and older adults have an increased risk of developing this complication. A person should see s doctor at the first sign of profuse or bloody diarrhea in case they're at high risk of hemolytic uremic. They should also seek medical advice in case they're not at risk, but their symptoms are severe or persistent. These people should have their stool checked for E. coli O157:H7 bacteria.


Listeria monocytogenes:

For an unborn baby, complications of a listeria food poisoning could be the most severe. Listeria infection could lead to miscarriage in early pregnancy. This infection could lead to stillbirth later in pregnancy, in addition to premature birth or a potentially fatal infection in the baby after birth, even if the mother was only slightly ill. Long-term neurological damage and delayed development could be experienced by infants who survive a listeria infection.


In case of food poisoning, the source of a person's illness and severity of the symptoms will determine the appropriate treatment Despite the fact that some types of food poisoning could last a week or more, however, the illness usually resolves itself without treatment within a few days.


Replacing lost fluids and relieving symptoms of severe diarrhea and vomiting is the primary goal of treatment. Fluids and electrolytes that were lost because of persistent diarrhea should be replaced; these include minerals, such as potassium, sodium and calcium that maintain the balance of fluids in the body.


Severely dehydrated children and adults need treatment in a hospital, where they could receive salts and fluids intravenously, instead of receiving them orally because intravenous hydration will provide the body with water and essential nutrients quicker than oral solutions do.


In case a person has certain kinds of bacterial food poisoning and their symptoms are severe, they may be prescribed antibiotics.


Food poisoning that has been caused by listeria should be treated in the hospital with intravenous antibiotics. Usually, the sooner treatment begins the better. During pregnancy, in order to keep the baby from being affected, the patient should receive prompt treatment of antibiotics.



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