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Food Poisoning – Causes, Symptoms and Treatment

Food poisoning, also called foodborne illness, is illness caused by eating contaminated food. Infectious organisms — including bacteria, viruses and parasites — or their toxins are the most common causes of food poisoning. Infectious organisms or their toxins can contaminate food at any point of processing or production.

About Food Poisoning

Food poisoning was first observed in the 1880s and came to be synonymous with stomach flu. The number of people contracting gastric illness increased, and today 1 out of every 10 people suffer from the condition at one time or another.

How food poisoning affects you will depend on how well your immune system fights the infection People often feel weak in the initial. If the condition becomes severe, loss of appetite is noticed in the patient.

In very rare cases, there is a need to see a doctor; otherwise, the illness resolves in a week or two. People of old age are at higher risk for suffering a case of food poisoning due to a weak immune system that cannot fight infectious organisms easily.

Difference between stomach flu and food poisoning

During the initial stage of a case of food poisoning, most people confuse it with stomach flu. Stomach flu is caused by various viruses, while food poisoning can spread through bacteria, viruses, or parasites. The early symptoms of both conditions are quite similar.

Symptoms of stomach flu take longer to develop than those of food poisoning. Also, stomach flu passes in a day or two while a case of food poisoning lasts for about a week.

Stomach flu is rare and can be contracted by coming in contact with a sick person or accidentally being exposed to the virus. Food poisoning, on the other hand, mostly results from an individual ingesting contaminated food or water.

What are the symptoms of food poisoning?

Symptoms can vary depending on the strength of the individual’s immune system. Symptoms may take a few hours or even around a week to show. They can last as long as ten days before subsiding. The most common symptoms are:

Another possible symptom is a loss of appetite, a significant symptom as it leads to other symptoms.

Loss of appetite causes weakness. Empty stomach conditions result in gas and therefore bloating. It can then make you feel nauseous and result in vomiting, which further causes dehydration, headaches and fatigue.

As mentioned earlier, these symptoms can last for ten days. It is very rare for them to last beyond that period.

When should you consult a doctor?

In most cases, it is not required to see a doctor for a case of food poisoning. Very rarely, a severe case of this condition can present, primarily in the elderly or individuals with a weak immune system.

When the following symptoms get aggravated, you should see a doctor:

  • Diarrhea for more than three days
  • Frequent vomiting
  • Bloody stool
  • Dizziness or blurry vision
  • An oral temperature higher than 100.4 F (38 C)
  • Extreme dehydration with dry mouth, sunken eyes, and reduced urination

If an infant has a fever of 101 degrees and is dehydrated, then it is recommended to see a doctor.

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What are the causes of food poisoning?

Food poisoning is mostly caused by contaminated or undercooked food. Germs or viruses may also transfer through contaminated surfaces like the necks of water bottles. Many germs and bacteria cause food poisoning, a little-known fact.

Some basic causes are:

  • Animal-based food – Eggs, meat, or dairy products.
  • Undercooked meals or food stored for a long time.
  • Fruits or vegetables getting contaminated during production or stored under poor conditions.

What are the risk factors for food poisoning?

Food poisoning can affect anyone, but certain categories of people are at a higher risk. As the immune system is an important factor in fighting food poisoning, most people who are at risk have a weak or underdeveloped immune system. The common risk groups are:

How is food poisoning treated?

Usually, it can be treated at home with rest. Many don’t find the need to visit the doctor. If your symptoms are causing you discomfort, then you should consult a doctor.

The doctor will enquire about your recent diet and may order different tests such as stool, urine, or even blood samples to diagnose the type of food poisoning you have. It is not always possible to find the base cause.

Most commonly, it is suggested to reduce the intake of foods that can make you dehydrated, like caffeine. It is advised to rest and drink a lot of water and energy drinks. Dairy products and spicy and fried foods should be completely avoided until you recover.

What are the complications of food poisoning?

Complications with food poisoning are extremely rare, so there is nothing to worry about if you have normal symptoms.

Possible complications generally occur due to severe types of bacteria such as botulism. Such cases of food poisoning result from having undercooked food or food which isn’t stored properly.

The most common complications are:

It is important to keep in mind that these are very rare scenarios and mostly present in individuals who are already medically vulnerable.

How can we prevent food poisoning?

The best way to prevent cases is to take care of what you eat and how you eat.

Food poisoning is caused due to contaminated food or the spreading of bacteria, viruses, or parasites. Make sure you wash your hands properly, don’t store cooked meals for more than a day, and wash utensils properly.

There are several food items that people at a higher risk for food poisoning should avoid:

  • Canned food
  • Fish products
  • Raw fruits and vegetables
  • Raw meat


It is an uncomfortable health condition, but the good thing is it lasts only about two to three days. It takes only a few basic measures to avoid being exposed to organisms that cause food poisoning. If the symptoms get worse, see a doctor as soon as possible.

Frequently Asked Questions

Can food poisoning be treated at home?

Yes, it can be treated at home, but only if the symptoms are mild and are not causing you much trouble. You should rest and take a lot of water and energy drinks. The condition is self-limiting and you will feel better soon.

What are some common types?

The most common causes of food poisoning are contaminated or undercooked food containing toxins produced by certain bacteria. Some common bacteria that cause infections are:

  • Shigelloses
  • Botulism
  • Listeriosis

Can you die from food poisoning?

Rarely, food poisoning can lead to death. In severe cases, kidney failure or brain damage can occur, which, without proper treatment, can lead to death.

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