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Food Poisoning

Food poisoning is caused by consuming foods which are contaminated with any combination of four pathogenic substances, these being; bacteria, toxins, viruses, and/or parasites. Contamination typically arises from improper handling, preparation or storage of food. Food poisoning can also be caused by adding pesticides or medicines to food, or by accidentally consuming naturally poisonous substances such as poisonous mushrooms or non-edible substances. Contact between food and pests, especially flies, rodents and cockroaches, is another potential cause of the contamination of food.

The World Health Organization defines food poising as:

"diseases, usually either infectious or toxic in nature, caused by agents that enter the body through the ingestion of food. Every person is at risk of food borne illness."

food poisoning symptoms

Symptoms of food poisoning typically begin several hours after ingestion and depending on the agent involved, can include one or more of the following symptoms:

  • nausea and upset stomach
  • abdominal pain
  • vomiting
  • diarrhea
  • fever
  • headache
  • lack of energy

In most cases the body is able to find balance after a short period of discomfort and illness. That said, food borne illness can result in permanent health problems and even death. The most at risk for further complications are babies, pregnant women, the elderly, those with chronic illness, and others with compromised immune systems.

early symptoms of food poisoning

The delay between consumption of a contaminated food and the appearance of the first symptoms of illness is called the incubation period. This ranges from hours to days, depending on the agent, and on how much was consumed.

During the incubation period, microbes pass through the stomach into the intestine, attach to the cells lining the intestinal walls, and begin to multiply there. Some types of microbes stay in the intestine, some produce a toxin that is absorbed into the bloodstream, and some can directly invade the deeper body tissues. The symptoms produced depend on the type of microbe.

a deeper look at the causes

Bacterial infection is the most common cause of food poisoning. Symptoms for bacterial infections are delayed because the bacteria need time to multiply. They are usually not seen until 12-36 hours after eating contaminated food.

  • Campylobacter: A cause of mild food born illness. The infection features fever, watery diarrhea, headache, and muscle aches. Campylobacter is the most commonly identified food-borne bacterial infection encountered in the world. It is transmitted by raw poultry, raw milk, and water contaminated by animal waste.
  • Salmonellae: A cause of moderate food poisoning featuring nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, cramping, and headaches. Often, the infection reemerges a few weeks later as arthritis (joint pains). In people with impaired immune systems, salmonellae can become a life-threatening illness. Salmonellae is transmitted by under cooked foods such as eggs, poultry, dairy products, and seafood.
  • Shigella (travelers diarrhea): A cause of moderate to severe food born illness. Symptoms may include fever; diarrhea containing blood or mucus or both, and the constant urge to have bowel movements. Shigella is transmitted in water polluted with human wastes.
  • Clostridium botulinum (botulism): A cause of severe food poisoning. Botulism affects the nervous system. Symptoms of botulism start as blurred vision. The person then has problems talking and displays overall weakness. Symptoms then progress to breathing difficulty and inability to move arms or legs. Botulism is transmitted in foods such as home-packed canned goods, honey, sausages, and seafood.
  • Escherichia coli (E coli): A causes of moderate to severe food born illness. The infection begins with a large amount of watery diarrhea, and then turns into bloody diarrhea. E coli is transmitted by eating raw or under cooked hamburger, unpasteurized milk or juices, or contaminated well water.
  • Staphylococcus aureus: A cause of moderate to severe illness with rapid onset of nausea, severe vomiting, dizziness, and abdominal cramping. Staphylococcus aureus produces a toxin on foods such as cream-filled cakes and pies, creamy salads, and dairy products. Contaminated potato salad is a common example.
  • Bacillus cereus: A cause of mild illness which displays rapid onset of vomiting. Bacillus Cereus is most often found in rice, often fried rice, and other starchy foods such as pasta and/or potatoes.
  • Vibrio cholerae: A cause of mild to moderate illness. Vibrio cholerae symptoms include crimpy diarrhea, headache, nausea, vomiting, and fever with chills. It strikes mostly in the warmer months of the year and is transmitted by infected, under cooked, or raw seafood.

Viral infections make up perhaps one third of cases of food poisoning in developed countries. They are usually of intermediate (1-3 days) incubation period, cause illnesses which is self-limited in otherwise healthy individuals.

  • Norwalk virus: A causes of mild illness with nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, abdominal pain, headache, and low-grade fever. The symptoms of norwalk virus usually resolve in 2-3 days. It is the most common viral cause of adult food poisoning. The Norwalk virus is transmitted from water, shellfish, and vegetables contaminated by feces, as well as from person to person.
  • Rotavirus: Causes moderate to severe illness with vomiting followed by watery diarrhea and fever. It is the most common cause of food poisoning in infants and children.
  • Hepatitis A: Hepatitis A ( also known as Hep A ) is a disease affecting the liver, and caused by the Hepatitis A virus (abbreviated HAV). Only 3 out of 4 people with hepatitis A have symptoms.
    Hepatitis A symptoms may include; jaundice (showing up first as yellow eyes), dark urine, nausea, fever, tiredness, loss of appetite, stomach ache, and vomiting.

Several foods can naturally contain toxins which are not produced by bacteria and occur naturally in foods. The incubation period for this type of illness is 1-2 hours.

Posted by Staff at July 5, 2005 5:59 AM

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Comments Archive

Can you give me further information on giardia lamblia the parasite that cause diarrhea in untreated drinking water? My medical book had very little information. Thank you

Posted by: Sherry at August 2, 2005 6:50 AM

Would just like to say i am just getting over food poising and your report was very helpful

Posted by: natasha dargan at December 11, 2005 11:32 PM

I am conviced what I have is food poisoning. One and a half weeks ago I ate red fish here in Louisiana (after Hurricane Katrina nearly took us off the map) and have been seriously ill since. EKG,CAT scans and MRI with blood work haven't shown anything but elevated lymposites-viral-, can it be possible to be sick with a toxin for this long? I had diahrea,headaches, slurred speech, numb finbers, sensation of swollen lips,confusion,exteme tiredness. Please help, my doctor wants me to see a neurologist, but the MRI showed nothing.

Posted by: Nora Sentilles at January 15, 2006 5:16 PM

As posted by Nora Sentilles Jan15,06, I have the same symtoms, since a trip I took to austrialia I have been feeling like this since Dec30,2005, I just recently went to consult a physican, and my blood test result are execellent,they did now take other blood test, with stoole smaples, I am waiting for results. I was wondering how Nora is doing?

Posted by: maria ciccotti at February 19, 2006 7:01 PM

I'am a US Soldier stationed in Balad Iraq. I belive I ate some bad chicken. I have diahrea which is green I feel weak my musles hurt and I'am getting dizzy spells.I also have been dry heaving.

Posted by: Keith Redington at March 5, 2006 4:05 PM

i have a headache, cramps really bad, and i have a bad fever, and i throw up every minute, and i lost a lot of my energy and i get the chills when i throw up. what do you think i have? I haven't visited the doctor yet though but asking you first!

Posted by: Debra Cole at June 28, 2006 3:29 PM

hi my name is adriana
and i was wondering if anyone knew how mucus can be in a stoole for abnout 3-4 months long and what could have caused this

Posted by: adriana at July 11, 2006 8:01 PM

my bofriend has had greenish anal waste with blood in it and has has smelly gas. can you please tell me what this is

Posted by: Katrina at August 2, 2006 2:16 AM

I appreciate the above medical facts of food borne illnesses as I have come home from work to find both my husband and my teenage son with vomiting. Neither one of them had had appenditics removed. However neither has a fever or any diarehha. No other symptoms just vomiting and some abdominal cramping..Nice to have someone to whine at. I am suspose to be seeing my surgeon today but will have to miss my appt since I cant drive 2 hrs both directions and have a 2 hr app..Well I suspose I could be a mean girl and leave them home alone but I bet karma would get back at me and leave me vomiting alone in the moutains... no thanks will just take care of the sick ones for now
hope you all are feeling better

Posted by: Julie at September 15, 2006 9:08 PM

My husband all of a sudden went from sleeping to having a cold sweat,chills,slight shaking,dry heaving,to vomiting and salivating within minutes. I also took a blood pressure reading and it was marking 167 over 92. what could it be?

Posted by: lezlie at September 21, 2006 12:59 PM

Well, I'm only 11 years old (soon to be 12), and I just went on a Year 7 camp. Everything was okay then except for a couple of headaches from everybody. But at the end of the week, also the end of camp, my mum picked me up. Later that day, I began feeling sick. But I didn't vomit or anything. The next morning a vomited like, seven times, and I had a temperature of 38.8 degrees. I was unwell with nausea, stomach aches, headaches, diarhhea and all that stuff. I was unwell from school for two weeks, possibly for longer now. I went to the doctor's twice during that time, I had a faecie and a blood test, but the results haven't come back yet.

What's wrong with me? I thjink it may be Salmonella, but who knows?

Posted by: Marina at November 19, 2006 7:19 AM

I have had stomach problems and diarrhea off and on for a couple of weeks. I couldn't eat about 10 days ago so I went to the doctor and they pumped a couple of IV's in me and gave me promethazine for the nausea. I felt better for a few days and now I have a weak stomach again and have had bad watery diarhhea. I can't get into the doctor for a week so what would you suggest? I called Walgreen Pharmacy and they suggest Imodium AD for now.

Posted by: Greg Allen at November 22, 2006 8:35 PM

i want the answers to these comments

Posted by: lucy at January 1, 2007 11:48 PM

i vomited & then got diahera bad my husband ate schrimp to but i had abaked potatoe & he didn't could it have been the potatoe,had a colonsocopy 4 days ago but had diahera bad 3 weeks ago

Posted by: wanda at February 11, 2007 6:27 PM