Food poisoning (also known as food-borne illness) occurs when you eat or drink something that contains harmful germs (bacteria, viruses or parasites). Sometimes bacteria produce a toxin in food and it's the toxin that causes the problem.
Symptoms of food poisoning can begin hours to days after consuming the contaminated food or drink. Timing depends in part on the cause of the food poisoning and the amount of food or drink consumed. Symptoms may include:
Food poisoning may affect just one person or a whole group of people exposed to the contaminated food or drink. It depends on how much of the germ or toxin each person consumed and how sensitive they are to it.
Children and the elderly are most likely to get food poisoning. You may also be at a higher risk if you:
Most cases of food poisoning are mild and clear up in a few days. During that time, the goal is to prevent dehydration. Dehydration is the loss of fluids and electrolytes (nutrients and minerals) your body needs.
You should avoid solid foods and dairy products until the vomiting and diarrhea have passed. Once you are feeling better, ease into eating and drinking again. Try bland foods, such as crackers, toast and bananas. Avoid spicy foods, fried foods, dairy and foods that are high in fat and sugar. Drink plenty of fluids, but avoid milk or caffeinated beverages. Also, sports drinks (brand name: Gatorade, others) are not meant to be used to treat diarrhea and do not replace the body's electrolytes (salts and minerals) correctly to prevent dehydration.
Symptoms of dehydration include:
To treat mild dehydration, try taking frequent sips of water. Clear soups, clear sodas and juice mixed with water can also help. Avoid coffee, tea, dark sodas and other caffeinated drinks. These drinks can make dehydration worse. Give children who have mild dehydration water and/or an oral rehydration solution (ORS). An ORS (brands: Pedialyte, Ricelyte, Rehydralyte) contains the right mix of salt, sugar, potassium and other nutrients to help replace lost body fluids. You can buy an ORS at most grocery stores and drugstores.
Severe cases of dehydration may have to be treated in the hospital. You may be given fluids and electrolytes intravenously (through an IV).
It can be. Dehydration can be dangerous, and so can certain types of food poisoning. Food poisoning caused by the Listeria bacteria can be very dangerous for the unborn babies of pregnant women. The infection is usually very mild for the mother, but can cause miscarriage, premature labor, stillbirth and developmental problems in their babies. People who have weakened immune systems are also at risk of developing complications from Listeria.
Food poisoning caused by Escherichia coli (E. coli) bacteria can cause hemolytic uremic syndrome (HUS). HUS can cause kidney failure, especially in people who have weakened immune systems.
Make an appointment with your doctor if:
Seek emergency care if:
Raw or undercooked meat or poultry, unpasteurized dairy products, raw shellfish, unwashed fruits and unwashed vegetables most commonly cause food poisoning.
Food poisoning is more common at picnics and buffets, where food (such as the mayonnaise in potato salad) is often left out of the refrigerator for a long time.
You can take a few simple steps to avoid food poisoning: