Food poisoning is quite an uncomfortable condition. And the bad news is that not only can it affect anyone and everyone, it is also very common. In fact, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 1 in 6 Americans experience food poisoning at least once per year. That’s a number that definitely requires attention.
The most important part is to identify the symptoms so that you can take proper care and follow the right treatment for the condition. And of course, there are ways to prevent food poisoning, and it all depends on your hygienic and lifestyle habits.
Food Poisoning Symptoms
If you have food poisoning, there is no chance that it will go undetected. The symptoms are way too obvious, and they start rather quickly after infection. They vary depending on the source of the infection.
But as a general rule of thumb, the signs and symptoms of food poisoning start within 2-6 hours of consuming contaminated food. The sickness caused by food poisoning lasts from a few hours to several days.
Here are the main symptoms of food poisoning:
- Abdominal pain and cramps
- Feeling sick
- Diarrhea (can contain blood or mucus)
- Loss of appetite
- Lack of energy and weakness
- Mild fever
- Abdominal (tummy) pain
- Aching muscles
In most cases, the symptoms pass within a few days and you can easily make a full recovery.
When to see the doctor
While food poisoning is usually a mild condition, there are sometimes severe cases that require hospitalization and an immediate reaction by your physician. If you experience some of these severe symptoms, seek medical attention:
- Bloody vomit or stools
- Diarrhea for more than three days
- Frequent vomiting
- Inability to keep liquids down
- Extreme pain and severe abdominal cramping
- Symptoms of dehydration (e.g., dry mouth, little or no urine, dizziness, excessive thirst)
- Neurological symptoms such as muscle weakness, tingling in the arms, and blurry vision
- Oral temperature higher than 100.4oF (38oC).
How Long Does Food Poisoning Last
Food poisoning is a common, yet preventable, condition. It is caused by eating foods contaminated with harmful pathogens. Most cases of food poisoning last a day or two, and they are just a mild condition. They can get better on their own. However, severe cases of food poisoning may require medical intervention.
It’s important to note that there are more than 250 types of food poisoning. And while the symptoms are similar, the length is different and depends on what substance caused the contamination, how much of it you ingested, and the severity of your symptoms. With that in mind, let’s take a look at the most common infections that can cause food poisoning.
Norovirus is a contagious virus found in water and food contaminated with feces. The virus can spread through contact with infected individuals or surfaces. According to statistics, the norovirus is responsible for 56% of the cases of foodborne illness in the United States. The outbreak usually occurs in food service settings such as restaurants, as this is the place where infected individuals have handled raw food.
There is no cure for the virus, and the only way to treat it is by staying hydrated, taking vitamin and mineral supplements, and resting.
Symptoms of norovirus start 12 to 48 hours of exposure, and they last for a few days. Here are the common symptoms:
- A headache
- Diarrhea (constant and severe)
- Stomach pain
- Nausea and vomiting
In extreme, severe cases, norovirus can cause dehydration along with the usual signs of the condition (e.g., fatigue, dry mouth, dry throat).
This is the leading cause of bacterial diarrhea worldwide. According to a study, salmonella accounts for 11% of food poisoning cases in the United States and 35% of hospitalized food illnesses.
This bacteria spread through food and water contaminated with fecal matter. Coming in contact with infected individuals or animals can cause the infection. The most obvious symptom of salmonella infection is usually diarrhea, followed by fever and abdominal pain.
The symptoms of a salmonella infection start between 6 and 72 hours of exposure. However, they usually occur within the 12-and 36-hour timeframe. Hydration and rest is the most obvious treatment, with the infection lasting between 4 and 7 days.
This is a type of bacteria that infects the intestines of humans and animals. If a large amount of the bacteria is consumed, illness occurs and can be spread through contact with other people.
This bacterium is found in raw meat and poultry products. The bacterium spreads in pre-cooked foods that have been kept warm for serving. The study of the Center for Disease Control shows that 10% of food poisoning cases in the U.S. are due to clostridium perfringens infections.
The infection starts within 6 to 24 hours, and the symptoms usually occur within 8 to 12 hours. Symptoms begin and stop suddenly, and unlike another food poisoning, there is no vomiting and fever accompanying diarrhea.
The leading cause of inflammation of the stomach and the small intestines, these species are found in the intestines of warm-blooded animals (mostly poultry and cattle). The infection can spread through consumption of meat and poultry products as well as direct contact with infected animals.
The problem with a Campylobacter species infection is that it can start anytime between day 1 and day 10 of exposure. The good news is that the infections are usually mild, and improve on their own within 3 to 6 days.
One of the most common and widely known bacteria, E. coli lives naturally in the intestines of most healthy animals. And while most types are harmless, there are some species of E. coli that can cause infection and food poisoning. The bacteria spread through fecal matter in food or water or direct contact with an infected individual.
Some of the unique symptoms include respiratory infection and urinary tract infection, in addition to diarrhea, abdominal pain and cramping, and low-grade fever.
The symptoms appear within 3 to 4 days of infection and last between 5 and 7 days. In some cases, E. coli can cause bloody diarrhea and severe dehydration. If that is the case, you need hospitalization and immediate medical treatment.
Food Poisoning Treatment
The treatment for food poisoning starts after the diagnosis. To diagnose food poisoning, a physician will ask you for a detailed history, including how long you’ve been sick, your symptoms, and what foods you’ve eaten. Then, the physician will perform an exam, mainly looking for signs of dehydration.
Depending on the symptoms and the health history, the doctor might even recommend a blood test, stool culture, or an examination for parasites. In some cases, the cause of the food poisoning cannot be identified. But in most cases, the physician will find the root cause of the problem.
Treatment depends on the source and severity of the symptoms. For some people, the illness can resolve without treatment within few days. However, in some cases, food poisoning may last longer and you might need more treatment.
The typical treatment for food poisoning includes getting an IV that will quickly replace the fluids and electrolytes you lost. Here is what treatment might include:
- Replacement of lost fluids. Your body loses sodium, potassium, and calcium, all minerals that help you maintain a healthy balance of fluids in your body. Because of constant diarrhea and vomiting, you lose these minerals and they need to be replaced. Some adults (usually older people) need hospitalization so that they receive salts and fluids intravenously (through a vein) to prevent further dehydration
- Your physician will prescribe antibiotics if you have a bacterial infection from food poisoning and the symptoms are severe. For example, food poisoning caused by listeria requires intravenous antibiotics during hospitalization. The treatment has to start sooner rather than later. For pregnant women, antibiotic treatment will keep the baby safe from the infection.
- Bear in mind that antibiotics do not help with virus infections. In fact, they might even worsen the symptoms caused by the viral infection.
- Your physician might recommend an oral rehydration solution (ORS) that you can purchase from pharmacies in sachets. You can dissolve ORS in water and drink them to replace salt, glucose, and other minerals.
What you can do at home
In addition to receiving treatment from your physician, you need to take special care at home and make sure you go through a full recovery. As mentioned, diarrhea and vomiting throw your body and its balance of fluids and electrolytes off.
Minerals such as potassium and sodium help with many important body functions, including controlling how much water there is in your body. Your main job, once getting back home from treatment, is to drink plenty of fluids. You can start with small sips if you need to. Make sure you avoid food for the first few hours as your stomach settles down.
Food Poisoning or Stomach Flu
People often mistake the stomach bug (flu) and food poisoning. While some of the symptoms are similar, there are many differences between the two. If you can easily determine which you have, you can start the appropriate treatment for yourself. Here are the key differences.
Difference in causes
While food poisoning can be caused by bacteria, viruses, and parasites, the stomach flu can be caused only by a virus. There are many different viruses that cause a stomach bug. And there is another big difference: the stomach bug is highly contagious. Usually, the stomach flu happens during the winter months (November through April). And the most common way to catch the virus is through direct contact with an infected person (someone who is sick). You can also become infected from contact with infected stool or vomit.
On the other hand, food poisoning is caused mostly by bacteria. It can also be caused by parasites that contaminate food. In most cases, Staphylococcus aureus or E. coli is responsible for food poisoning. You can also get food poisoning from eating contaminated or undercooked meat. Foods like raw and undercooked eggs, raw sprouts, soft or unpasteurized cheese, raw fish, contaminated water, undercooked rice, and fruits and vegetables that are not well washed can also cause food poisoning.
The incubation period
For the stomach flu, the incubation period lasts between 24 and 48 hours after exposure to the virus. In the case of food poisoning, the incubation period lasts between 2 and 6 hours of eating the contaminated food, and the symptoms last no longer than two days.
The reality is that some of the most common symptoms of food poisoning and stomach flu are similar. These include diarrhea, nausea, and vomiting. However, there are many symptoms that occur with stomach flu but not with food poisoning. To determine the difference, you need to know the symptoms of both conditions.
Symptoms of a stomach bug include:
- Stomach cramps
- Joint aches
- Muscle aches
- Weight loss
Symptoms of food poisoning include:
- Diarrhea or constipation
- Stomach cramps
As you can see, in terms of food poisoning, dehydration plays a role. You also sweat a lot, and you might experience a headache. On the other hand, symptoms of stomach flu include muscle and joint aches, which mean more pain in parts of the body other than the stomach.
To summarize, the symptoms of food poisoning:
- Occur quicker after exposure
- Are more severe
- And are shorter in duration
Natural Remedies for Food Poisoning
We mentioned it over and over again. When you suffer from food poisoning, your body will lose fluids and electrolytes more than it normally does. Because of that, most of the home remedies and natural remedies for food poisoning tend to replace the electrolytes and fluids. The initial plan of action is to consume a lot of fluids and avoid solid foods.
You can start your treatment at home rather than rushing to your physician. Some of the ingredients and natural remedies for food poisoning can easily be found in your kitchen. They are fast-acting remedies that can stop the poisoning at its root.
This spice has been used for medicinal purposes for thousands of years. Ginger has many benefits, including its powerful therapeutic and preventive effects. One of ginger’s key roles is to improve your digestion, which is why it works perfectly for nausea and vomiting. Consuming ginger will provide instant relief for some of the most irritating food poisoning symptoms.
You can easily prepare a cup of ginger, which provides fluids and electrolytes. Add a teaspoon of grated ginger into a cup of water and boil it for a few minutes. Add a little honey for sweetness, and you have yourself a great remedy.
You can also mix a few drops of ginger juice and a teaspoon of honey, and then swallow it. Repeat the treatment several times per day to reduce the inflammation in the gut. And of course, consuming raw ginger slices is always an option (if you can stomach it).
Apple cider vinegar
Another ingredient that’s a staple in the kitchen as well as in home remedies. Yes, vinegar has an acidic nature, but it also has an alkaline effect because of the way our body metabolizes ACV. As a result, vinegar can help with many of the symptoms of food poisoning. For starters, apple cider vinegar will kill off the bacteria causing the problem, resulting in instant relief.
For a quick fix, mix two tablespoons of apple cider vinegar and a cup of hot water. Drink it before consuming any food. Or drink a teaspoon or two of undiluted apple cider vinegar. It all depends on how much you can stomach it.
Same as apple cider vinegar, lemon might have an acidic nature, but it also has antibacterial properties. It is those properties, in combination with its antiviral and anti-inflammatory properties, that make lemon great for relieving symptoms of food poisoning.
For this remedy, mix one teaspoon of lemon juice and a pinch of sugar. Consume three times per day. If you want a more advanced solution, just mix a glass of warm water with juice squeezed from half a lemon to provide detox properties for your body.
Basil helps a lot by soothing the abdominal discomfort caused by bacteria and food poisoning. In addition, basil has antimicrobial properties that fight off all the microorganisms in your body. There are different ways to use basil for food poisoning.
The first and simplest is to mix juice extracted from basil leaves with a teaspoon of honey. Consume it few times per day.
Another way to consume basil leaves is to put a few drops of basil essential oil into four cups of drinking water. Consume slowly throughout the day. The solution will kill off bacteria causing the pain in your stomach.
Last, but not least, mix basil leaves, sea salt, and a pinch of black pepper with three tablespoons of yogurt. Consume four times per day until the symptoms are gone.
We’ve seen that honey is part of many mixtures and solutions for food poisoning. But the remedy can work on its own as well. Honey is known for its antifungal and antibacterial properties, both of which are effective in treating indigestion and similar symptoms caused by food poisoning. You can consume honey pure or added to any tea.
The simplest way to consume honey is to eat a teaspoon of it three times per day. It will do wonders for your upset stomach.
Cumin seeds are a known remedy for abdominal discomfort and stomach inflammation. They have been used in alternative medicine for years, and they can relieve other food poisoning symptoms as well.
For this remedy, boil a teaspoon of cumin seeds in a cup of water. When it’s almost ready, add a teaspoon of coriander juice extracted from fresh leaves and a pinch of salt. Drink two times per day for a few days to relieve the symptoms.
Another herbal drink can be made from cumin seeds, salt, and asafoetida (a dried latex used in India). Consume the drink two to three times per day to cleanse your system and provide relief from the symptoms.
One of the superfoods, garlic is very effective in alleviating food poisoning symptoms. Garlic has many benefits, but they all derive from its antiviral, antifungal, and antibacterial properties. Garlic can be used to relieve diarrhea and abdominal cramping.
To use it as a remedy, eat a fresh garlic clove and swallow it with water. You can also try garlic juice if you can tolerate the odor of garlic.
For those who can’t tolerate the smell of garlic, rub a mixture of garlic essential oil and soybean oil on your stomach.
Fenugreek seeds and yogurt
We all know yogurt is a probiotic that helps with relieving symptoms of food poisoning. Yogurt also restores the balance of bacteria in your gut. Due to its antibacterial and antimicrobial properties, yogurt is a great natural remedy for food poisoning. Combine it with fenugreek seeds, and you have the remedy that can help with abdominal cramping and discomfort.
For this remedy, mix a teaspoon of fenugreek seeds and one tablespoon of yogurt. Just swallow the seeds (do not chew them). When combined, the effects of this remedy will provide an immediate relief for stomach pain and vomiting.
What to Eat After Food Poisoning
Between vomiting and diarrhea, food poisoning can easily get you dehydrated. And you won’t have much of a desire to eat. What if I throw up again? What if what I eat ends up going out of my body? Those are all valid questions, but after few days of severe food poisoning, you need to start eating again.
It will be tough to get excited about food, but it is important to nourish your body along the road to recovery.
The most important thing to do after food poisoning is to replace fluids and salt. Hydration is the key, but you also need to replace the salt you lost during the vomiting and diarrhea.
Health institutes recommend broth, soup, and fruit juices. But the thing to consider when you start eating after food poisoning is the BRAT diet. This is a diet that guarantees that the food coming in won’t come out in the liquid state.
You are basically ready for real food two days after food poisoning (although sometimes even more). The BRAT diet stands for bananas, rice, applesauce, and toast. This is a good place to start eating real food after food poisoning. You can add bland foods like crackers, cooked carrots, and potatoes slowly into the diet, as they are all gentle on the stomach. You can rely on plain congee, which is basically a savory rice porridge, or instant mashed potatoes for a quick and easy meal.
As for your hydration, stick to plain water, flat soda, weak tea, apple juice, or broth to replenish the fluids you lost.
What about a normal diet?
The road to recovery means slowly adding foods that are not as gentle on your stomach. But you need to start slowly. That means that you can start by adding soft-cooked eggs, cooked vegetables, white meat chicken, and stewed fruits to the diet. Until you are 100% ready to go back to a regular diet, you should avoid fried foods, spicy foods, raw vegetables, greasy foods, dairy products, alcohol, and caffeinated drinks.
And after a few days of the BRAD diet, slowly add probiotics to your diet as well (e.g., yogurt, kefir, and other similar foods). The goal is to restore the balance of healthy bacteria in your gut and intestines, and probiotics are the only food that can do that. Look for yogurt and similar products that contain “live active cultures.”
How to Prevent Food Poisoning
Although food poisoning is a condition that lasts for just a few days, it is way too irritable and bothersome. The good news is that with great care, you can easily prevent food poisoning in your home. You can’t guarantee the hygiene outside of your home, but at least you can be sure your home is safe. Here are some tips to prevent food poisoning.
- Always wash your hands with soap and water for 20 seconds before handling food. Repeat the process of handling food as well.
- Wash your hands after handling raw meats and after using the toilet.
- Make sure to wash fruits and vegetables before usage, even if you peel them.
- Wash cutting boards, silverware, and dinnerware after usage with warm, soapy water.
- Cook food to the minimum temperature as per the Safe Minimum Cooking Temperature chart.
- Use a meat thermometer to ensure that the meat, poultry, and fish are cooked to the minimum temperature recommended by the FDA.
- Separate uncooked meat, fish, and poultry from other foods. Never put them on the same plate.
- Never reuse the marinade used to marinate poultry or meat without boiling it first.
- Use separate cutting boards and knives for meat, seafood, poultry, fish, and eggs.
- Frozen food should be thawed in the fridge, microwave, or under cold water.
- Refrigerate or freeze perishable food within two hours.
Can You Report Food Poisoning?
If your food poisoning has been caused by a restaurant or other food outlet, it is your duty to report the problem. And yes, you can report the problem to the local environmental health department.
The department will investigate the restaurant, and, if necessary, ensure that the business improves its health standards and hygiene standards to prevent the problem from happening again.