Food poisoning, or foodborne illness, is "illness resulting from eating food or drinking water containing poisonous substances" (Medicine Net). The most common causes of food poisoning are the intake of bacteria, parasites, viruses, amongst other toxic organisms.

Contamination can occur at any point, during processing, pre-preparation, preparation, and post-preparation. Contamination is not limited to occurring only at a food facility. It can also happen at home, and in your own kitchen if improperly handled and/or cooked. Food poisoning may result in many different symptoms such as: nausea, diarrhea, fever, vomiting etc.

Report Serious Food Poisoning Exposure:

No  Yes

Symptoms of Foodborne Illness

  • Vomiting
  • Abdominal Pain
  • Diarrhea (including bloody bowel movements)
  • Fever
  • Nausea
  • Loss of Appetite

Symptoms can begin to occur hours after consumption of bacteria, or even days/weeks after. Typically, food poisoning cases will resolve themselves within a few days, or even hours, depending on the specific type of infection. On the other hand, more extreme cases may last much longer and require you to seek medical attention.

You should seek immediate medical attention if you are experiencing any of the following:

  • Long lasting vomiting
  • Inability to hold down food or liquids
  • Extreme cramping and abdominal pain
  • Long lasting diarrhea/ runny stool (three or more days)
  • Fever above 100.4 degrees fahrenheit
  • Muscle weakness
  • Blurred vision
  • Signs of intense dehydration

Causes of Food Poisoning Infection

Contamination can take place in any step of the food process. It can take place in the growth or harvest, the processing or storing, or the shipping and preparation. Another typical cause is cross-contamination. This is the "transfer of bacteria or other contaminants from one surface, substance, etc., to another especially because of unsanitary handling procedures" (Merriam Webster Dictionary). This is especially common in raw and ready-to-eat foods seeing as though harmful toxins and bacterias are not cooked out prior to eating. After eating, you are susceptible to food poisoning.

Contaminant: Onset of Symptoms: Foods Affected/Transmission:
Campylobacter 2-5 days Meat/ poultry. Contamination occurs when feces comes in contact with the meat surface, or what touches the meat. Unpasteurized milk and unclean water sources are also affected.
Clostridium Botulinum 12-72 hours Low acidity canned foods, smoked/ salted fish, improperly canned food, foods kept in warm temperatures too long, and potatoes cooked in aluminum foil.
Clostridium Perfringens 8-16 hours Meats, gravies, stews. Occurs when food is not kept at a proper heat or when chilled too slowly.
Escherichia coli (E. coli) O157:H7 1-8 days This is spread by undercooked beef contaminated by feces during slaughtering. You can also get it from unpasteurized milk, alfalfa sprouts, apple cider, and contaminated water.
Giardia lamblia 1-2 weeks Also found in raw and ready-to-eats foods; as well as contaminated water. It can be spread by an infected food handler.
Hepatitis A 28 days Raw, ready-to-eat produce and fishes, and contaminated water. Can also be spread by an infected food handler.
Listeria 9-48 hours Lunch meats, unpasteurized dairy products, unwashed/raw produce, and dirty water/soil.
Noroviruses (Norwalk-like viruses) 12-48 hours Raw and ready-to-eat produce and fish, as well as contaminated water. This can be spread by an infected food handler.
Rotavirus 1-3 days Raw and ready-to-eat produce. Can be spread by an infected food handler.
Salmonella 1-3 days Raw or contaminated meat, milk, poultry, eggs, and egg yolk. It survives when the food/liquid is not properly cooked. It can be spread by, cutting surfaces, dirty knives, and by an infected food handler.
Shigella 24-48 hours Raw and ready-to-eat produce, and seafood is affected. Can be spread by an infected food handler.
Staphylococcus aureus 1-6 hours Cream sauces, meats and prepared salads, cream-filled pastries. Can be spread by coughing, sneezing, and hand contact.
Vibrio vulnificus 1-7 days Raw undercooked oysters, mussels, scallops, and clams. Can also be spread through contaminated seawater.

Risk Factors of Food Poisoning

Illness after coming in contact with the contaminated organism depends on the type of organism, age, amounts of exposure, and health.

  • Pregnant women: Your reaction to food consumed bacteria may be more severe when pregnant, due to possible increased changes in metabolism and circulation. There is a possibility that your baby may also be affected, though it is rare.
  • Older adults: Weakened immune system due to age may hinder your body from easily and properly responding to and taking care of infectious organisms that you come in contact with.
  • People with chronic diseases: Having a chronic condition or receiving chemotherapy or radiation therapy for cancer reduces your immune response. Therefore making you easily susceptible to being attacked by a bacteria causing food poisoning.
  • Infants and young children: Underdeveloped immune systems are at risk of infection.

Foodborne Illness Complications

A common cause of serious complication in food-poisoning cases is dehydration. It is very important to stay well hydrated when experiencing food-poisoning symptoms. Anybody with a suppressed immune system (as well as infants and older adults), or chronic illnesses, may become severely dehydrated; losing more fluids than they can replace. These may lead to the need for hospitalization. In extreme cases, dehydration is fatal, so medical attention should be seeked immediately.

Some types of food poisoning/ foodborne illnesses have potentially serious complications. Such as:

Listeria monocytogenes: Complications may be most severe for an unborn baby. Listeria may lead to miscarriage in stages of early pregnancy. Later in the pregnancy, it can even lead to a still or premature birth. It is also potentially fatal to a newborn baby after birth. There is also a possibility of long term neurological damage and or delayed development.

Escherichia coli (E. coli): Older adults, and young children (5 or under), and people with weakened immune systems may have a higher risk of developing complications. In extreme cases, E. coli can cause kidney failure.

Preventing Food Poisoning

  • Wash hands and food contact surfaces often: Wash hands and surfaces with warm water and soap after every use, and after coming into contact with something other than one thing.
  • Keep foods separated: Do not keep raw meats, fishes, poultry, etc. around ready-to-eat produce. Keep all foods contained separately to prevent cross-contamination.
  • Cook and store foods at a safe temperature: Cook all foods to the recommended temperature, allowing it to kill off harmful bacterias. Also be sure all foods are properly stored in the proper and recommended temperature.
  • Refrigerate or freeze perishable foods promptly: Make sure all perishables are properly stored within one to two hours after purchase or removal.
  • Defrost foods safely: Do not defrost food at room temperature. This allows breeding ground for bacteria. Make sure to safely defrost food in the refrigerator. When microwaving food on a thaw setting, make sure to cook immediately after.
  • Throw away questionable food/drinks: If you are unsure as to if the food or drink has been properly cooked, handled, or stored, throw it away; it may contain harmful toxins. Remember that even if it looks fine, it may not be.

Food poisoning is serious and potentially life-threatening for young children, pregnant women, developing babies, older adults, and people with weakened immune systems. These individuals should be precautious and avoid the following:

  • Raw and/or undercooked shellfish, oysters, clams, mussels, scallops, etc.
  • Raw/undercooked eggs and non-cooked products containing them
  • Raw/rare meats and poultry
  • Unpasteurized milks, juices, and ciders
  • All unpasteurized dairy products
  • Raw sprouts, beans, radish, etc.
  • Soft and/or unpasteurized cheeses
  • Refrigerated meat spreads and pates
  • Uncooked lunch meats, hot dogs, and deli meats