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Food Poisoning

Medically reviewed by Last updated on Nov 5, 2023.

What is food poisoning?

Food poisoning is when you get sick after you eat food contaminated with bacteria, a virus, a toxin, or a parasite. The exact cause of your food poisoning may not be known. Food poisoning most commonly happens when you eat raw or undercooked food. Meat, seafood, produce, and dairy products are common foods that can become contaminated.

What increases my risk for food poisoning?

Babies, young children, and older adults are more likely to get food poisoning. You are also at risk if you are pregnant or have a medical condition that affects your immune system. These conditions include diabetes, cancer, and HIV.

What are the signs and symptoms of food poisoning?

  • Diarrhea
  • Abdominal cramps or pain
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Fever

How is food poisoning diagnosed?

Your healthcare provider will ask about your symptoms and the foods you have eaten recently. Your provider will ask when you last ate, and where you were. Your provider may want to know if anyone who ate with you is also sick. Your provider will examine your abdomen and check for signs of dehydration. Dehydration can happen if you have diarrhea or are vomiting. You may also need the following:

  • A bowel movement culture may show which germ is causing your food poisoning.
  • Blood tests check for bacteria or viruses that can cause food poisoning. They may also show if you are dehydrated.

How is food poisoning treated?

Medicines may be given to slow or stop diarrhea, calm your stomach, or treat a bacterial infection.

How can I manage my symptoms?

  • Drink liquids as directed. You will need to drink liquids or an oral rehydrating solution (ORS) to prevent dehydration. An ORS contains a balance of water, salt, and sugar to replace body fluids lost during vomiting and diarrhea. Ask which kind of ORS to use, how much to drink, and where to get it.
  • Eat bland foods. After you can keep an ORS down for 3 or 4 hours, eat something bland. Examples of bland foods are soup or broth with crackers. Follow a BRATT diet until you feel better. BRATT stands for bananas, rice, applesauce, toast, and tea. Do not have sugary drinks, caffeine, or alcohol. These may increase your symptoms. A baby who has food poisoning should be breastfed as usual if he or she is still nursing. Do this to prevent the baby from becoming dehydrated.

How can I prevent food poisoning?

  • Clean thoroughly. Wash your hands in warm, soapy water for 20 seconds before and after you handle or prepare foods. Wash your hands after you use the bathroom, change a diaper, or touch an animal. Rinse fruits and vegetables in running water. Clean cutting boards, knives, countertops, and other areas where you prepare food before and after you cook. Wash sponges and dishtowels weekly in hot water.
  • Cook foods all the way through. Cook eggs until the yolks are firm. Use a food thermometer to make sure meat is heated to a temperature that will kill any bacteria. Do not eat raw or undercooked poultry, seafood, or meat.
  • Separate raw and cooked foods. Keep raw meat and its juices away from other foods to prevent the spread of bacteria. Never put cooked food on a dish that held raw meat. Get a clean dish for the cooked food.
  • Store food properly. Refrigerate or freeze fruits and vegetables, cooked foods, and leftovers right away. Keep your refrigerator at 40°F (4.4°C) or lower and your freezer at 0°F (-17.7°C).

When should I seek immediate care?

  • You are vomiting so often that you cannot keep any liquid down.
  • You have a fever and pale skin, and you feel irritated and tired.
  • You are very drowsy or cannot stay awake.
  • You have bloody diarrhea.
  • You urinate small amounts or not at all.
  • You feel dizzy or confused.
  • You have severe pain in your abdomen.

When should I call my doctor?

  • You are very thirsty and your mouth and tongue are dry.
  • Your diarrhea has lasted longer than 3 days.
  • You have diarrhea and a fever higher than 101.5°F (38.6°C).
  • You have questions or concerns about your condition or care.

Care Agreement

You have the right to help plan your care. Learn about your health condition and how it may be treated. Discuss treatment options with your healthcare providers to decide what care you want to receive. You always have the right to refuse treatment. The above information is an educational aid only. It is not intended as medical advice for individual conditions or treatments. Talk to your doctor, nurse or pharmacist before following any medical regimen to see if it is safe and effective for you.

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