Food Poisoning

Food Poisoning

Reviewed by: Ryan J. Brogan, DO
Primary Care Pediatrics at Nemours Children’s Health

What Is Food Poisoning?

Bacteria, viruses, and other microorganisms are responsible for food poisoning. They can enter our bodies through the food we eat or the liquids we consume. These microorganisms are tasteless, odorless, and invisible (at least not without a microscope). Despite their small size, they have a significant impact on the body.

Toxins can be released when microorganisms that cause food poisoning enter our bodies. These toxins are poisons that can cause diarrhea and vomiting (thus the name “food poisoning”).

Food poisoning is a term used by doctors to describe a disease that develops swiftly after consuming contaminated food. After becoming infected, many people experience diarrhea or begin vomiting within a few hours. Food poisoning, on the other hand, usually goes away quickly. The majority of people recover in a few days with no long-term consequences.

Severe food poisoning may necessitate a trip to the doctor or hospital in some situations. Dehydration is frequently the cause of medical therapy for food poisoning. The most common dangerous complication of food poisoning is dehydration.

What Are the Signs & Symptoms of Food Poisoning?

The way food poisoning manifests itself is determined by the germ that caused it. Within an hour or two of eating or drinking infected food or drinks, someone may become ill. Symptoms may not show for several weeks in some cases. Symptoms usually disappear after one to ten days.

The following are symptoms of food poisoning in children:

  • nauseous (feeling sick)
  • stomach aches and cramps
  • vomiting \sdiarrhea \sfever
  • general weakness and a headache


Food poisoning can make you dizzy, impair your eyesight, or cause tingling in your arms in rare situations. The weakness that often comes with food poisoning might create respiratory problems in rare circumstances.

What Causes Food Poisoning?

People can get food poisoning if they consume or drink something that is infected with microorganisms. Food poisoning is frequently caused by animal-based foods such as meat, poultry, eggs, dairy products, and shellfish. Unwashed fruits, vegetables, and other raw foods, on the other hand, can be polluted and cause illness. Food poisoning can be caused by anything, including water.

During food preparation, storage, and handling, foods and beverages can be contaminated in a variety of ways. For instance:

  • Food-growing water can become contaminated with animal or human excrement (poop).
  • During processing or shipping, meat or poultry may come into touch with pathogens.
  • Bacteria can infect foods that have been stored at the incorrect temperature or for an extended period of time.
  • If cooks or other food workers don’t wash their hands or use dirty utensils or cutting boards, they can contaminate meals.

Food poisoning is more likely to affect those with health problems (such as chronic renal disease) or compromised immune systems than healthy people.

What Germs Cause Food Poisoning?

Food poisoning is frequently caused by the following terms:

Salmonella. In the United States, Salmonella bacteria constitute the most common cause of food poisoning. When bacteria come into contact with animal excrement, they frequently end up in food. Salmonella poisoning is most commonly caused by consuming raw dairy products, undercooked meat, and unwashed fresh produce.

coliform bacteria (Escherichia coli). When E. coli bacteria come into touch with animal excrement, they frequently end up in food or water. In the United States, the most prevalent cause of E. coli poisoning is eating undercooked ground beef.

Listeria. Unpasteurized dairy products, smoked seafood, and processed meats like hot dogs and lunchmeats are the most common sources of these germs. Fruits and vegetables can also be contaminated with Listeria bacterium, however, this is less common.

Campylobacter. Meat, poultry, and unpasteurized milk are the most prevalent sources of these germs. Water can also be contaminated by Campylobacter. These bacteria, like other bacteria, usually enter foods through contact with diseased animal excrement.

Staphylococcus aureus is a kind of bacteria. Hand contact, sneezing, and coughing spread these germs (which can be found in meats, prepared salads, and foods made with tainted dairy products). This means that people who prepare or handle food are at risk of contracting the disease.

Shigella. Shigella bacteria can infect raw fruits and vegetables as well as shellfish. Most bacteria spread when persons who prepare or handle food do not properly wash their hands after using the restroom. Blood in the stool is sometimes caused by an infection (poop).

Hepatitis A is a virus that causes liver disease. This virus is usually contracted by eating raw shellfish or items that have been handled by an infected person. It might be difficult to determine the source of an infection because people may not become ill for 15 to 50 days.

Norovirus. Norovirus infections are rapidly disseminated, especially in crowded environments such as daycares and schools.

Listeria and E. coli, for example, can cause potentially fatal heart, kidney, and blood problems.

When Should I Call the Doctor?

The majority of food poisoning episodes may not require medical attention, but some do. Dehydration is the most prevalent significant side effect of food poisoning. A healthy child will not become dehydrated if he or she consumes enough liquids to replace what is lost through vomiting or diarrhea.

If your child exhibits any of the following symptoms, consult a doctor:

  • a bout of vomiting that lasts longer than 12 hours
  • diarrhea and a temperature of more than 101°F (38.3°C)
  • strong abdominal pain that persists after a bowel movement
  • bowel motions that are black or maroon in color (diarrhea or normal stool) or bloody vomit
  • a hammering or rushing heart

It’s crucial to keep an eye out for indicators of dehydration, which include:

  • severe thirst with minimal or no urine production (pee)
  • dizziness
  • lightheadedness or weakness in sunken eyes
  • If your family has just traveled to a foreign country and your child develops diarrhea or other stomach issues, consult your physician.

People with compromised immune systems or health issues are more susceptible to food poisoning (particularly dehydration). Call your doctor straight away if your child has a health problem (such as renal illness or sickle cell disease). Food poisoning can harm an unborn child, therefore pregnant women should inform their doctors if they get it.

How Is Food Poisoning Diagnosed?

A doctor will inquire as to what your youngster ate recently and when symptoms first appeared. The doctor will examine you and maybe collect a sample of your blood, feces, or pee to send to a lab for testing. This will aid the doctor in determining the source of the ailment.

How Is Food Poisoning Treated?

Food poisoning usually passes and children recover on their own. Antibiotics are occasionally used by doctors to treat more severe cases of bacterial food poisoning. A child with severe dehydration may require hospitalization and intravenous (IV) fluids. a

At-Home Care

Food poisoning normally clears up after a few days. In the meantime, make sure your child does the following to help him or she feel better:

  • He gets a lot of rest.
  • To avoid dehydration, he drinks liquids. Electrolyte solutions are effective, but anything other than milk or caffeine-containing beverages will suffice.
  • To make it simpler to keep the fluids down, he takes little, frequent sips.
  • Until diarrhea has ceased, avoid solid foods and dairy products.


Over-the-counter anti-diarrhea medications should not be given. These can make food poisoning symptoms stay longer. To avoid further stomach distress, feed your child modest, bland, low-fat meals for a few days after diarrhea and vomiting have ceased.

Call your doctor if your symptoms worsen or you notice indications of dehydration.

How Can We Prevent Food Poisoning?

To help protect your family against food poisoning, follow these guidelines:

  • Teach your entire family to wash their hands thoroughly and frequently, particularly after using the restroom, before touching food, and after touching raw food. Scrub for at least 15 seconds with soap and warm water.
  • Use hot, soapy water to clean all utensils, cutting boards, and surfaces used to prepare food.
  • Serve unpasteurized milk or foods containing unpasteurized milk with caution.
  • All raw fruits and vegetables that you can’t peel should be washed.
  • Until raw foods (particularly meat, poultry, and shellfish) are cooked, keep them separate from other foods.
  • As soon as possible, use perishable food or any item with an expiration date.
  • Cook all animal-based foods to a safe internal temperature. This means at least 160°F (71°C) for ground beef and pork. The safe temperature for solid cuts of meat is 145°F (63°C). It must be at least 165°F (74°C) for chicken and turkey (ground and whole). Cook the yolks of chicken eggs until they are solid. When fish reaches a temperature of 145°F (63°C), it is generally safe to consume.
  • Refrigerate leftovers as soon as possible, ideally in containers with snap-tight lids.
  • Refrigerate, microwave, or defrost meals in cold water. Never thaw frozen food at room temperature.
  • Throw aside food that is past its expiration date, tastes odd, or smells strange.
  • Avoid raw or undercooked meats and seafood, smoked seafood, raw eggs and goods containing raw eggs, soft cheeses, unpasteurized milk and juice, patés, prepared salads, luncheon meats, and hot dogs if you’re pregnant.
  • Do not drink water from untreated wells or streams.
  • Notify your local health department if someone in your household suffers food poisoning. Officials, there may be able to identify the source of the outbreak and prevent it from spreading to others.

Reviewed by: Ryan J. Brogan, DO

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