What is Food Poisoning, Its Causes, Symptoms & Treatments?

Food poisoning is caused by bacteria that grow in improperly stored or prepared food. Symptoms include nausea, vomiting, and diarrhoea etc.

Most people recover within 24 hours with no lasting effects. However, some people develop more severe food poisoning cases requiring medical attention. If you assume you have been poisoned, contact your doctor right away.

Learn about the symptoms, causes, treatment options, and prevention tips. 

What is food poisoning?

Foodborne illness, sometimes known as food poisoning, can be brought on by eating infected, rotting, or poisonous food. The three most prevalent signs of food poisoning are nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea.

Although very rare, food poisoning is not uncommon. Of those 48 million people, 128,000 were hospitalized.

How long does food poisoning last?

Depending on the infection's origin, symptoms might last anywhere from 30 minutes to 8 weeks.

With or without treatment, most cases resolve within a week.

Common Causes of Food Poisoning

Food poisoning comes in a variety of forms. They are caused by bacteria, viruses, parasites, chemicals, and toxins. "Foodborne sickness" refers to the form of food poisoning that occurs most frequently. This occurs when contaminated foods enter the body through the mouth, nose, or digestive tract.

Bacteria, parasites, and viruses are the three primary causes of the majority of instances of food poisoning.

This disease can be found in almost all human foods. However, the heat from cooking usually kills foodborne pathogens before they reach our plates. Food poisoning frequently results from eating raw food since it hasn't been cooked. Sometimes food comes into contact with organisms in the stool or vomit. This often happens when sick people prepare food and do not wash their hands before cooking.

Dairy, meat, and egg products are frequently contaminated. Additionally, disease-causing organisms can contaminate water.


The most frequent cause of food poisoning is bacteria. Food poisoning-causing bacteria:

  • E. coli, especially Shiga toxin-producing E. coli (STEC)
  • Listeria monocytogenes
  • Salmonella
  • Campylobacter
  • Clostridium botulinum
  • Staphylococcus aureus
  • Shigella
  • Vibrio vulnificus

When you think of harmful bacteria, Escherichia coli and salmonella come to mind for a reason.

The most typical cause of food poisoning in the US is salmonella. The Salmonella virus is responsible for approximately 1,350,000 cases of food poisoning annually, including 26,500 hospitalizations.

48 million Americans, or almost 1 in 7, are affected by food poisoning each year. Two lesser-known but potentially lethal bacteria that can enter our food include campylobacter and C. botulinum.


Although parasite-related food poisoning is less frequent than bacterial-related food poisoning, it is nonetheless exceedingly deadly. These consist of:

  • Toxoplasma
  • Giardia lamblia
  • Various tapeworms, such as:
  • Taenia saginata (beef tapeworm)
  • Taenia solium (pig tapeworm)
  • Diphyllobothrium latum (fish tapeworm)
  • Cryptosporidium
  • Ascaris lumbricoides, a species of roundworm
  • Flatworms, such as Opisthorchiidae (liver worms) and Paragonimus (lungworms)
  • Pinworms, or Enterobiasis
  • Trichinella

According to the CDC, toxoplasmosis is the leading cause of death due to food poisoning in the United States. Toxoplasmosis is also found in litter boxes.

Your gut tract may harbor parasites that have gone undiscovered for years. If some parasites live in their intestines, those with lower immune systems and pregnant women are more likely to experience more severe side effects.

The virus

Viruses, such as: can also cause food poisoning

  • Norovirus is also known as the Norwalk virus.
  • Rotavirus
  • Astrovirus
  • Sabo virus
  • Hepatitis A virus

The norovirus yearly causes 19 to 21 million instances of vomiting and diarrhea in the United States. In rare cases, it can be fatal. Other viruses cause similar but less common symptoms.

Hepatitis A virus can also be spread by eating certain foods.

The Most Common Food Poisoning Symptoms

If you suspect that you may have acquired food poisoning, the following are the typical signs and symptoms to look out for:

• Nausea

• Vomiting

• Diarrhea

• Abdominal cramps

• Headache

• Fever

• Chills

• Stomach pain

• Muscle aches

• Weakness

• Dizziness

• Confusion

• Loss of appetite

• Blurred vision

• Sore throat

• Sweating

• Tiredness

• Fatigue

• Cough

• Shortness of breath

• Chest pains

• Seizures

• Convulsions

• Coma

• Death

Food poisoning treatment

Most food poisoning cases can be handled at home. Here are a few remedies for food poisoning:

Stay hydrated

It's crucial to remain hydrated if you have a food illness. Sports drinks with lots of electrolytes can be beneficial. Fruit juice and coconut water provide total carbohydrates and help relieve fatigue.

Avoid caffeine, which can interfere with digestion. Tea mixed with soothing herbs such as chamomile, peppermint, and dandelion can help relieve an upset stomach.

Read more about treating an upset stomach.

Take over-the-counter (OTC) medications.

Pepto-Bismol and loperamide (Imodium), both available over-the-counter, can be used to control nausea and treat diarrhoea.

The body utilises vomiting and diarrhoea to eliminate poisons from the system, therefore you should speak with a doctor before taking this medication. These drugs can also increase the severity of the disease and delay the search for professional care.

Pyrantel pamoate (Reese's pinworm) is a popular treatment for pinworms.

Take prescription medication.

Depending on the organism that caused the disease, food poisoning cases typically resolve on their own, but some people may benefit from prescription medicine.

Prescription drugs can be helpful for people who are older, have weakened immune systems, or are pregnant. For pregnant women, antibiotic treatment can help prevent the transmission of infection to the fetus.

If you need prescription medications, your doctor may prescribe one of the following medicines for the following conditions:

A. lumbricoides: antiparasitic drugs albendazole (Albenza) or mebendazole (Infirm)

Campylobacter: the antibiotic azithromycin (Zithromax).

Cryptosporidium: The antiparasitic drug nitazoxanide (Alinia) treats diarrhea.

D. Latum (fish tapeworm): the antiparasitic drug praziquantel (bactericide);

Enterobiasis (pinworms): albendazole (Albenza) or mebendazole (Infirm)


  • nitazoxanide (Alinia)
  • Antibiotics metronidazole (Flagyl), bromomycin, quinacrine, or furazolidone
  • Tinidazole (Tindamax), an antibiotic and antiparasitic.

L. monocytogenes: the antibiotic ampicillin

Opisthorchiidae (hollow liver): praziquantel (Biltricide) or albendazole (Albenza)

Paragonimus (lung bone): Praziquantel (Pultricid) or the antiparasitic drug triclabendazole (Agatin)

Shigella: antibiotics azithromycin (Zithromax) or ciprofloxacin (Cipro)

T. saginata (bovine worm): Praziquantel (Bultrazide) or Albendazole (Albenza), These T. saginata therapies are not approved by the FDA. 

Three rounds:

Combination of antiparasitic drugs such as pyrimethamine (Daraprim) and antibiotics such as sulfadiazine

Spiramycin antibiotic, as a standalone drug

Trichinella: albendazole (Albenza) or mebendazole (Infirm)

Get Antitoxin

Clostridium botulinum infection is considered a medical emergency. Seek medical help as soon as possible.

Your doctor will prescribe an antitoxin if C. botulinum is the cause of your condition. Babies are given a special antitoxin called BabyBIG (food poisoning immunoglobulin).


It is also important for people suffering from food poisoning to get adequate rest.

When your work is hard

You may need to stay hydrated in the hospital with intravenous (IV) fluids for severe food poisoning.

In severe cases of food poisoning, recovery may necessitate a prolonged hospital stay. People with severe C. botulinum infection, which is rare, may require mechanical ventilation.

Treating Food Poisoning at Home

If you think you might have come in contact with a foodborne illness, you should take the following precautions to prevent further exposure:

  1. Before you consume or handle food in any way, wash your hands with soap and water.
  2. Cook foods thoroughly by following safe cooking instructions.
  3. Avoid cross-contamination by washing cutting boards, knives, and utensils after each use.
  4. Keep raw meats separate from other foods.
  5. Ensure you store leftovers properly, so they do not spoil.

What do you eat and drink with food poisoning?

It is preferable to gradually quit eating solid foods until vomiting and diarrhea stop. Instead, return to your regular diet by eating or drinking foods that are easy to digest, light, and low in fat, such as:

  • cracked salt
  • Cheers
  • jelly
  • banana
  • Rice
  • oatmeal
  • stupid potato
  • Cooked vegetables
  • chicken broth
  • Decaffeinated soft drinks such as ginger ale or root beer
  • watery fruit juice
  • Sports drinks

What to avoid?

To avoid further stomach upset, try to avoid the following hard-to-digest foods, even if you feel better:

  • Dairy products, especially milk and cheese
  • cream food
  • Fried food
  • spicy food
  • Foods that contain a lot of sugar
  • spicy food
  • caffeine
  • alcohol
  • nicotine

How is food poisoning diagnosed?

Based on your symptoms, a doctor can determine the sort of food poisoning you have.

To identify the source of the food poisoning, tests on your blood, faeces, and food may be performed in extreme circumstances. Your doctor may also use a urine test to assess if you are dehydrated from food poisoning.

Risk factors for food poisoning

Anyone can get food poisoning. According to statistics, almost everyone will experience food poisoning at least once.

Compared to other groups, some are in greater danger. This comprises:

People who are immunocompromised. Anyone with an autoimmune disorder or a compromised immune system may be more susceptible to infections and other side effects from food poisoning.

Food poisoning is also more common in parents 65 and older. This is because their immune system cannot respond quickly to infectious organisms. Young Adults Children under five are also considered vulnerable because their immune systems are not as developed as adults. Young children are more prone to dehydration from vomiting and diarrhea.

How can we prevent food poisoning?

Handling food with care and avoiding potentially hazardous items are the easiest ways to prevent food poisoning.

Certain foods are more prone to food poisoning because they are consumed and prepared. Some foods may contain infectious agents that are killed during cooking, such as:

  • Meat
  • the chicken
  • an egg
  • seashells

If these items are consumed uncooked or incorrectly cooked, or if hands and surfaces are not cleaned after contact, it may lead to food poisoning. 

In addition, the following foods can result in food poisoning:

  • Sushi and other fish products are served raw or undercooked.
  • Unheated or cooked meats and sausages
  • Ground beef may contain meat from certain animals.
  • Unpasteurized milk, cheese and juice
  • Unwashed raw fruits and vegetables

To avoid food poisoning, follow these steps:

  • Ensure your food is tightly sealed and stored.
  • Always wash your hands before cooking, serving or eating food.
  • Cook the meat and eggs well.
  • Sterilize anything that comes into contact with raw produce before using it for other food preparation.
  • Always wash fruits and vegetables before serving.

Prediction of food poisoning

Food poisoning is rarely fatal. Food poisoning can be quite upsetting, but the good news is that the majority of sufferers recover completely within a few days.

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