Bacteria, Parasites, Viruses and Toxins Cause Food Poisoning
Food poisoning occurs when you swallow food or water that contains bacteria, parasites, viruses, or toxins made by these germs. Most cases are caused by common bacteria such as Staphylococcus or E-coli.
Food poisoning symptoms vary with the source of contamination. Most types of food poisoning cause one or more of the following signs and symptoms:
- Watery diarrhea
- Abdominal pain and cramps
Signs and symptoms may start within hours after eating the contaminated food, or they may begin days or even weeks later. Sickness caused by food poisoning generally lasts from a few hours to several days.
The severity of the poisoning can become acute when any of these symptoms occur such as:
- Vomiting and inability to keep liquids down
- Bloody vomit or stools
- Diarrhea for more than three days
- Extreme pain or severe abdominal cramping
- An oral temperature higher than 101.5 F (38.6 C)
- Signs or symptoms of dehydration — excessive thirst, dry mouth, little or no urination, severe weakness, dizziness, or lightheadedness
- Neurological symptoms such as blurry vision, muscle weakness and tingling in the arms
Contamination of food can happen at any point during its production: growing, harvesting, processing, storing, shipping or preparing. Cross-contamination — the transfer of harmful organisms from one surface to another — is often the cause. This is especially troublesome for raw, ready-to-eat foods, such as salads or other produce. Because these foods aren’t cooked, harmful organisms aren’t destroyed before eating and can cause food poisoning. Many bacterial, viral or parasitic agents cause food poisoning. The following table shows some of the possible contaminants, when you might start to feel symptoms and common ways the organism is spread.
Onset of symptoms
Foods Affected and Transmission
|Meat and Poultry||2-5 days||Meat & Poultry
Contamination occurs during processing if animal feces contact meat surfaces. Other sources include unpasteurized milk and contaminated water.
|Clostridium Botulinum||12 to 72 hours||Home-canned foods with low acidity, improperly canned commercial foods, smoked or salted fish, potatoes baked in aluminum foil, and other foods kept at warm temperatures for too long.|
|Clostridium Perfringens||12 to 72 hours||Meats, Stews and Gravies
Commonly spread when serving dishes don’t keep food hot enough or food is chilled too slowly.
|Escherichia coli (E-coli) O157:H7||1-8 days||Beef contaminated with feces during slaughter. Spread mainly by undercooked ground beef. Other sources include unpasteurized milk and apple cider, alfalfa sprouts, and contaminated water.|
|Giardia Iamblia||1 to 2 weeks||Raw, ready-to-eat produce and contaminated water. Can be spread by an infected food handler.|
|Hepatitis A||28 days||Raw, ready-to-eat produce and shellfish from contaminated water. Can be spread by an infected food handler.|
|Listeria||9 to 48 hours||Hot dogs, luncheon meats, unpasteurized milk and cheeses, and unwashed raw produce. Can be spread through contaminated soil and water.|
|Noroviruses (Norwalk-like viruses)||12 to 48 hours||Raw, ready-to-eat produce and shellfish from contaminated water. Can be spread by an infected food handler.|
|Rotavirus||1 to 3 days||Raw, ready-to-eat produce
Can be spread by an infected food handler.
|Salmonella||1 to 3 days||Raw or contaminated meat, poultry, milk or egg yolks. Survives inadequate cooking. Can be spread by knives, cutting surfaces or an infected food handler.|
|Shigella||24 to 48 hours||Seafood and raw, ready-to-eat produce
Can be spread by an infected food handler.
|Staphylococcus Aureus||1 to 6 hours||Meats and prepared salads, cream sauces, and cream-filled pastries. Can be spread by hand contact, coughing and sneezing.|
|Vibrio Vulnificus||1 to 7 days||Raw oysters and raw or undercooked mussels, clams, and whole scallops. Can be spread through contaminated seawater.(Mayo Clinic.org)|
When food poisoning is the probable cause due to the symptoms from any of the above mentioned foods ingested, it is highly recommended that you seek medical care and testing to identify the pathogens and possible treatments that can be administered as quickly as possible. Sometimes these pathogens can hide within the stomach and intestinal walls or organs such as the liver and gall bladder without treatment. When pathogens are allowed to grow and proliferate within the gut or a period of time, other chronic and or acute illnesses can occur if left unattended or ignored. Some of the pathogens remain dormant or at a low level of activity for weeks, months and sometimes years. Then, as if coming from out of nowhere undue stress or a sudden trauma can exacerbate the situation and cause mild to severe onset of a sudden digestive disorder; aka, old pathogens that have been living in the gut for some time. The severity of the illness and symptoms depends on how strong the immune system and the health of the digestion tract and endocrine systems are performing. When digestion is affected then it can alter the ability for the whole body system to function in its normal capacity. For more information see E-coli, Digestion, Endocrine System, Parasites, Constipation, Chronic Fatigue, Irritable Bowel. See our evaluation form for digestive dysfunction and disorders.
However, most of the time, you will get better in a couple of days. The goal is to ease symptoms and make sure your body has the proper amount of fluids. Getting enough fluids and learning what to eat will help keep you comfortable. You may need to:
- Manage the diarrhea
- Control nausea and vomiting
- Get plenty of rest
- Electrolytes and other rehydration mixtures to replace fluids and minerals lost through vomiting and diarrhea will accelerate recovery. (See: intraMIN® and intraMAX®)
- You can make your own mixture by dissolving ½ teaspoonful each salt and baking soda and 4 tablespoonfuls of sugar in 4 ¼ cups (1 liter) water.
- If you have diarrhea and are unable to drink or keep down fluids, you may need fluids given through a vein (by IV). This may be more common in young children. If you take diuretics, ask your health care provider if you need to stop taking the diuretic while you have diarrhea. Never stop or change medicines before talking to your doctor.
For the most common causes of food poisoning*, your doctor will NOT prescribe antibiotics. You can buy medicines at the drugstore that help slow diarrhea. Do not use these medicines without talking to your health care provider if you have bloody diarrhea, a fever, or the diarrhea is severe. Do not give these medicines to children without consulting with your health care provider.
*Activated charcoal is type of carbon made from wood, vegetables and other materials. Activated charcoal has a large adsorptive capacity, making it able to bind with unwanted substances and toxins. Charcoal may help to lower total cholesterol and LDL cholesterol. It has also been found to help with digestion, bloating and gas, malodorous gas, detoxification, and poisoning.