(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 (toxins) produced by bacteria
- Amoeba or parasites
A risk factor is something that increases your chance of getting a disease or condition.
Risk factors 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 and can last anywhere from hours to weeks. Symptoms include:
The doctor will ask about your symptoms and medical history, and perform a physical exam. You may be asked to provide a sample of the 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 indicated to asses kidney function, blood salts and acid-base balance, and presence of 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.
Drink plenty of fluids. If you are severely ill, you may need intravenous 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, as you are able to eat without vomiting.
- Avoid milk products for several days, only if their consumption worsens symptoms.
- 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, or 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.
- 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.
- Only eat cooked fruits and vegetables rather than raw ones.
- Don't eat food from street vendors.
American Gastroenterological Association
Gateway to Government Information About Food Safety
The Canadian Association of Gastroenterology (CAG)
Canadian Partnership for Consumer Food Safety Education
Conn's Current Therapy 2001 . 53rd ed. WB Saunders; 2001.
Nachimuthu S, Piccione P. Food poisoning. Emedicine website. Available at: http://www.emedicine.com/med/topic807.htm .
Sleisenger & Fordtran's Gastrointestinal and Liver Disease . 6th ed. WB Saunders; 1998.
Sood S. Food poisoning. Emedicine website. Available at: http://www.emedicine.com/ped/topic795.htm .
Last reviewed November 2008 by
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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