What Is Food Poisoning, Types, Symptoms, & Prevention

What Is Food Poisoning

What Is Food Poisoning, Types, Symptoms, & Prevention


Food poisoning is the result of eating contaminated, spoilt or toxic food. It can also be referred to as a food borne illness. Food poisoning may be caused by bacteria, viruses, parasites or toxins in the food we eat.

Although it’s quite uncomfortable, food poisoning isn’t unusual. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Trusted Source, 1 in 6 Americans will contract some form of food poisoning every year.

What Causes Food Poisoning?

Most food poisoning can be traced to one of the following three major causes:


Bacteria is by far the most prevalent cause of food poisoning. When thinking of dangerous bacteria, names like E. coliListeriaand Salmonella come to mind for good reason. Salmonella is by far the biggest culprit of serious food poisoning cases in the United States. According to the CDC Trusted Source, an estimated 1,000,000 cases of food poisoning, including nearly 20,000 hospitalizations, can be traced to salmonella infection annually. Campylobacter and C. botulinum ( botulism)are two lesser-known and potentially lethal bacteria that can lurk in our food.


Food poisoning caused by parasites is not as common as food poisoning caused by bacteria, but parasites spread through food are still very dangerous. Toxoplasma is the parasite seen most often in cases of food poisoning. It’s typically found in cat litter boxes. Parasites can live in your digestive tract undetected for years. However, people with weakened immune systems and pregnant women risk serious side effects if parasites take up residence in their intestines.


Food poisoning can also be caused by a virus. The norovirus, also known as the Norwalk virus, causes over 19 million cases Trusted Source of food poisoning each year. In rare cases, it can be fatal. Sapovirus, rotavirus, and astrovirus bring on similar symptoms, but they’re less common. Hepatitis A virus is a serious condition that can be transmitted through food.

Symptoms of Food Poisoning

Symptoms of food poisoning can vary depending on the source of infection.  The span of time it takes for symptoms to appear also depends on the source of the infection, but it can range from as little as 1 hour to as long as 28 days.

Common cases of food poisoning include at least three of the following symptoms:

  • Vomiting
  • Abdominal cramps
  • Diarrhea
  • Loss of appetite
  • Mild fever
  • Weakness
  • Nausea or headaches.

Food poisoning can cause serious long-term problems like kidney failure. Pregnant women, elderly people, children and those whose immune system have been weakened through illness or drugs, are more vulnerable to food poisoning and it could lead to serious complications. Therefore, it is important that people in these categories seek urgent medical help when necessary.


While having food poisoning is quite uncomfortable, the good news is that most people recover completely within 48 hours.  Food poisoning can be life-threatening, however the CDC says this is extremely rare.

Can Food Poisoning Be Prevented?

To prevent food poisoning, caution must be applied when it comes to food and water consumption. Meat, egg, and dairy products are frequently contaminated; hence, they should be properly cooked before consumption. Pathogen (a specific causative agent of disease) can be found on almost all the food that humans consume. But heat from cooking usually kills the pathogens on food before they are eaten. Thus, as much as you can, avoid eating raw food, they are common source of food poisoning.

Also, wash your hands properly before preparing or eating. Even when you intend to eat with cutlery, it is safe to still wash your hands properly first.  Water can also be contaminated. So, make sure you drink from a clean source and through a clean vessel.

Food poisoning can usually be treated at home, and most cases can be resolved within three to five days. But if not, it’s advisable to consult your doctor for proper check-up, test, diagnosis and treatment. If you are diagnosed of food poisoning, it’s crucial to remain properly hydrated.

Fruit juice and coconut water can restore carbohydrate and help with fatigue. Do not take caffeine because it may irritate the digestive tract. Decaffeinated teas with soothing herb like chamomile, peppermint and dandelion may calm an upset stomach and other digestive issues.

Imodium and Pepto-Bismol are other medication that can be used to treat, and control sudden diarrhea, suppress nausea and other stomach discomfort. However, you should check with your doctor before using these medications. Besides, get plenty of rest.



This article on "Hkitnob: Health Columns" is for informational purposes only, and is not meant to offer medical advice.