Food Poisoning: Types, Causes, Symptoms, Tests, & Treatment

What is Food Poisoning (Foodborne Illness)?

The ailment that occurs in humans due to contaminated food is commonly referred to as food poisoning. It is also known as Foodborne illness or foodborne disease.

“Food poisoning” is a wide term that actually covers a whole lot of different infections.

The exact symptoms of this illness and how bad they are will vary. These will depend on the type of virus, bacteria, or parasite infecting you, how much it is present in your system, and how fine your immunity is fighting it off.

In spite of its wide range of types, the most common symptoms of food poisoning are:

  • Nausea
  • Diarrhea
  • Vomiting

Usually, the illness does not cause any severity. The person with food poisoning gets better eventually without even treatment. In rare cases, the person with this illness needs to visit a doctor or hospital for treatment. Very few cases of food poisoning become life-threatening at times.

Some people with certain conditions are at higher risk of food poisoning than others. Such people include:

  • Children (Under 5 years of age)
  • Old citizens (Older than 65 years)
  • Pregnant women
  • Immunocompromised people

Let’s dig deeper about this illness and understand every single factor about it. In this article, we will learn the causes, symptoms, treatment, types, home remedies, tests, and prevention of food poisoning.

What are The Symptoms of Food Poisoning (Foodborne Illness)?

The signs and symptoms of food poisoning may vary depending on several factors. Sometimes the symptoms are very mild and sometimes the disease shows severe symptoms.

Usually, the person affected by swallowing the contaminated food starts to show the signs within a few hours. In some cases, it may take weeks for the symptoms of food poisoning to appear. Let’s understand the signs of food poisoning in varied situations.

1) Most common symptoms of food poisoning that usually occur are:

  • Headache
  • Weakness
  • Mild fever
  • Loss of appetite
  • Vomiting
  • Nausea
  • Diarrhea
  • Abdominal cramps
  • Chills
  • Muscle aches, etc.

2) Some symptoms of food poisoning that may be life-threatening are:

  • Bloody urine
  • Severe dehydration symptoms, such as dry mouth, passing little to no urine
  • Visual or vocal difficulties
  • High fever (>102 degrees F or 38.9 degrees C),
  • Diarrhea for more than 3 days

3) The symptoms of some less common food poisoning are:

  • Weakness
  • Numbness or tingling in arms
  • Paralysis
  • Headache
  • Blurred vision, etc.

The symptoms may vary from person to person depending on the severity. If you find yourself even a little doubtful about anything related to the symptoms, consult your healthcare provider as soon as you can.

What are The Causes of Food Poisoning (Foodborne Illness)?

Mainly food poisoning is caused by consuming contaminated food or drinks. Three types of pathogens that may get attached to the food items to cause food poisoning are bacteria, viruses, and parasites.

Food contamination is possible at any particular step of its overall stages of production. The stages of food preparation include growing, harvesting, processing, storing, shipping, or preparing. But the humans get affected by this contaminated food only after they swallow it.

The pathogens that are responsible for causing food poisoning can be detected in the food items consumed by humans. But the process of cooking is likely to kill these pathogens. Therefore, uncooked or raw food items are usually known to make humans infected with a foodborne disease called food poisoning.

The food items which commonly carry these germs are:

  • Food items that are not properly sealed.
  • Fresh produce
  • Processed and ready-to-eat meat such as deli meat or hot dogs.
  • Raw or uncooked meat, eggs, and poultry.
  • Baked goods, sandwiches, cut fruit, salads, sliced meat, etc.
  • Fruit juices and dairy products that are kept without pasteurization (a method used to kill harmful microbes).
  • Fish and shellfish.

Responsible Pathogens or Types of Food Poisoning

Let’s understand with the help of a table, pathogens that may be responsible for food poisoning and the different factors related to it (1).

PathogensHow often do symptoms occurUsual symptomsFoods affected and means of transmission
Staphylococcus aureus (S. aureus)  30 minutes to 8 hoursNausea
Stomach cramps
Uncooked food such as pastries
Sliced meat, etc.
Vibrio  2 to 48 hoursChills
Stomach cramps
Watery diarrhea
Raw or not properly cooked shellfish such as oysters.
Clostridium perfringens  6 to 24 hoursStomach cramps
Some uncommon signs are fever and vomiting.
Stews and
Salmonella  6 hours to 6 daysVomiting
Stomach cramps
Raw fruits and vegetables
Unpasteurized milk and juices
Raw and uncooked meat
Norovirus  12 to 48 hoursVomiting
Stomach pain
Unsafe water
Fresh fruits
Leafy greens
An infected person
Infected surface.
Clostridium botulinum (Botulism)  18 to 36 hoursParalysis
Muscle weakness
Dry mouth
Difficulty swallowing and breathing
Slurred speech
Drooping eyelids
Double or blurred vision.
Prison made illicit alcohol
Improperly canned or fermented foods.
Campylobacter  2 to 5 daysFever
Stomach pain/cramps
Diarrhea (often bloody).
Contaminated water
Unpasteurized milk
Raw or undercooked poultry.
E. coli (Escherichia coli)  3 to 4 daysVomiting
Diarrhea (often bloody)
Severe stomach cramps.
Unsafe water
Raw sprouts
Raw vegetables
Unpasteurized milk and juices
Raw or undercooked ground beef.
Cyclospora  1 weekFatigue
Increased gas
Stomach pain/cramps
Weight loss
Loss of appetite
Watery diarrhea.
Raw fruits or vegetables.
Listeria  1 to 4 weeksMuscle aches
Convulsions with fever
Loss of balance
Stiff neck
Pregnant ladies usually have a fever and other flu-like symptoms, like muscle aches and fatigue.
Its infection during pregnancy can cause serious illness or even death in newborns.
Unpasteurized milk
Smoked seafood
Deli meats
Raw sprouts
Queso fresco and other soft cheeses.

Tests For Food Poisoning

Usually, food poisoning with mild symptoms goes up on its own. But if you find some critical symptoms which you find difficult to get cured on your own, it is the time you should seek medical attention.

Consult your health care provider when you see the following symptoms of food poisoning:

  • Frequent vomiting
  • Inability to keep liquids
  • Blood in stools or vomit
  • Diarrhea that resists more than 3 days
  • Severe pain in the abdomen or cramps
  • More than 100.4°F body temperature.
  • Certain neurological symptoms include tingling in the arms, muscle weakness, and blurry vision.
  • Signs of dehydration include lightheadedness, dizziness, severe weakness, difficulty in passing urine, dry mouth, excessive thirst, etc.

After the appearance of these are the symptoms, you should immediately check with your doctor.

Your health care provider will do the following tests to check the severity of complications:

TestsWhat It Helps to Determine
Imaging test (MRI and CT Scan)It is not particularly used to determine food poisoning. But often used to rule out other probable causes of symptoms.
Stool or blood testIt helps to determine deadly toxins such as botulism.
Blood TestThis test helps to detect Listeria monocytogenes and the hepatitis A virus.
Stool culturesThis test helps to determine if the infection is related to bacteria, which bacteria is responsible for it, and which antibiotics will kill it.

What is The Treatment of Food Poisoning?

Usually, food poisoning does not require any critical treatment. It gets resolved on its own at home. The treatment completely depends on the type of pathogen you get affected with. Some illnesses of food poisoning resolve in just a few days, whereas, some take a little longer time.

Here are some ways to treat food poisoning. Let’s understand them.

Focus on Hydration

It’s very important in food poisoning that you should focus on keeping your body hydrated. Increase the intake of fluids such as regular water, coconut water, fruit juices, etc. Also, you can consume drinks that are rich in electrolytes. Avoid caffeine-rich products.

Take Proper Rest

Giving proper rest to your body is also important during such conditions. It helps to relieve your illness soon.

Over-The-Counter (OTC) Medications May Help

Diarrhea, nausea, etc. are very common during food poisoning. OTC medications such as loperamide and Pepto-Bismol can help you manage diarrhea and suppress nausea.

You should ask your healthcare provider for these over-the-counter medications to treat the symptoms that come with this food-borne illness; because your body uses diarrhea and vomiting to rid the system of the toxin.

Using these OTC medications may also mask the severity of the disease and cause you to delay seeking expert treatment.

Prescription Medicines

To treat the food poisoning caused by some specific pathogens, you may need some prescription medicine. Your doctor will check or do some tests to detect the pathogen and prescribe medicines accordingly. Prescription medicines are helpful for people who are at higher risk of food poisoning such as pregnant women, immunocompromised persons, older people, etc.

Receiving Antitoxin Is Required For Certain Conditions

Some infections of food poisoning are considered emergencies and require medical treatment. Doctors administer suitable antitoxin depending on the medical condition and particular age range.

Food poisoning with C. botulinum is considered a medical emergency and you should seek medical care as soon as you can. Your doctor will administer an antitoxin. Babies with this infection will receive a special antitoxin called BabyBIG (botulism immune globulin).

Requires IV (Intravenous) Fluid

If your particular case of food poisoning is becoming critical, there is a requirement to get hospitalized. The healthcare provider will administer IV fluid to hydrate your body. The time duration of hospitalization depends on the severity.

People with severe cases of C. botulinum food poisoning may even require mechanical ventilation.

Prevention of Food Poisoning (or Foodborne Illness)

Standard advice to avoid food poisoning includes the following four key components (2):

CookCooking the food at the right temperature kills the harmful bacteria present in them. One can use a cooking thermometer to check the adequate temperature to cook any particular food.
SeparateTo prevent cross-contamination of bacteria, keep the food items separately. Especially ready-to-eat foods should be kept separate from raw food items.
CleanProperly clean utensils, worktops, cutting boards, and other items used to cook. Also, wash hands frequently with soap or hand-wash, mainly after handling raw meat or eggs and before eating or touching your mouth.
Refrigerate (Chill)Keeping the food in chilled places such as the refrigerator slows down the growth of harmful bacteria in them.

Diagnosis of Food Poisoning

Your doctor may be able to diagnose the type of food poisoning according to your symptoms.

In severe cases, your doctor may recommend stool tests, blood tests, and tests on food that you have consumed, to determine the cause of the food poisoning. The doctor may also use a urine test to determine whether you are suffering from dehydration due to food poisoning.

Home Remedies For Food Poisoning

You can do treatment of food poisoning from easily available ingredients and foods in your kitchen.

1) Fresh Coriander Leaves or Dhaniya Powder

Corianders are always known for their properties to enhance the taste. But, despite this, these small leaves have several medicinal properties too. It can help to cure any infection in the stomach. For this, put some coriander leaves in a closed water bottle and keep them overnight in the refrigerator. Drink it the next morning with an empty stomach.

2). Apple Cider Vinegar (ACV)

Apple cider vinegar is one of the best home remedies to reduce or cure the symptoms of food poisoning. Its alkaline properties help to reduce the infection in the stomach. Drink 2 to 3 teaspoons of ACV by mixing it with 1 cup of hot water or drink 2 to 3 teaspoons of undiluted ACV. 

3). Peppermint or Menthol

Peppermint contains antispasmodic properties. It helps in soothing the digestive tract to reduce the symptoms of food poisoning. You can eat chewing gums, candies, etc., or anything that contains peppermint.

4). Ginger Juice

Ginger or adrak has natural anti-inflammatory properties. It helps in soothing the stomach lining. For this, boil 1 cup of water along with 1 spoon of grated ginger. You can add honey or sugar to make it edible. You can also directly consume pieces of ginger.

5). Basil (Tulsi)

The anti-inflammatory properties present in basil leaves act to cure the digestive tract. It also helps to maintain the pH level of your body. To use the basil leaves for the treatment of food poisoning, prepare juice by extracting a few basil leaves in water and adding a little honey to taste. Drink this juice as many times as you can.

6). Yogurt and Fenugreek Seeds

Mix 1 tsp yogurt with 1 tsp fenugreek seeds and consume by swallowing the seeds. Avoid chewing the seeds. The antibacterial properties of yogurt kill the bacteria responsible for food poisoning. Whereas, the high content of soluble fiber present in fenugreek seeds helps the food to move along, adds bulkiness to the stools, and absorbs water.

7). Cumin Seeds

Add coriander juice to cumin seeds boiled with 1 cup of water. Drink it twice a day. Cumin seeds are very effective to treat food poisoning. It helps in speeding up the digestion process by enhancing the activity of digestive enzymes.

8). Lemon

To treat food poisoning, lemon can be considered as “the king of remedies”. Lemon contains strong antibacterial, antiviral, and anti-inflammatory properties. That is why you can consume a mixture of 1 teaspoon of lime juice and sugar.

9). Water

Water acts as the universal healer. Drinking approximately 2.5 to 3.5 liters of water during food poisoning filters out the illness-causing bacteria and toxins from the body.

10). Bananas

Consuming a banana or a glass full of banana shake is good to cure food poisoning. They are a rich source of fiber and potassium and are very easy to digest. The consumption of bananas is a very effective home remedy for food poisoning.

11). A Mixture to Rehydrate Body

Dehydration can be easily seen in a person having food poisoning. This situation throws out all the crucial liquid elements from the body. Therefore, the lime juice mixture rehydrates the body again. It is a very effective treatment for dehydration. Prepare the lime juice mixture by mixing 1 liter water, 2 teaspoons of lemon juice, sugar to taste, and a pinch of salt.

12). Apple

Eating apples during food poisoning is an effective home remedy. It helps in preventing bacteria formation which is responsible for food poisoning. Also, apples help in reducing heartburn and reflux.

13). Honey

The honey which is always available in the kitchen of your home can be used to treat food poisoning. The antifungal and antibacterial properties of honey make it an effective home remedy. Take one teaspoon of honey thrice a day for the treatment of food poisoning.

What to Consume And Avoid During Food Poisoning?

It’s advised to slowly hold off on solid foods until vomiting and diarrhea have passed. Rather, ease back into your regular diet by drinking or eating easy-to-digest items that are bland and low in fat.

Also, to prevent more stomach upset, try to avoid the harder-to-digest foods.

Here I am listing below a few food items that you can consume or avoid during food poisoning:

1) Sports drinks
2) Saltine crackers
3) Diluted fruit juices
4) Toast
5) Soda which includes ginger ale or root beer
6) Gelatin
7) Chicken broth
8) Bananas
9) Boiled vegetables
10) Rice
11) Bland potatoes
12) Oatmeal
1) Nicotine
2) Dairy products such as milk and cheese
3) Foods rich in sugar
4) Fatty foods
5) Highly seasoned foods
6) Alcohol
7) Caffeine
8) Fried foods

Outlook for Food Poisoning

Suffering from food poisoning is quite uncomfortable, but the good thing is that most people get complete recovery within a few days and sometimes even without treatment.

In rare cases, food poisoning can be life-threatening.

The outlook for people with food poisoning (or foodborne illness) depends on:

  • Age and overall health of the person suffering from the infection.
  • Type of bacteria or toxin causing food poisoning.
  • The type of contamination that occurred.

So, this is all about food poisoning. I hope you might have got a complete understanding of the different important factors of this illness.



1) Symptoms and Sources of Common Food Poisoning Germs

2) Foodborne Germs and Illnesses


Disclaimer: This article is intended for informational purposes only. Any information associated with this article should not be considered as a substitute for prescriptions suggested by local health care professionals.


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