Learn more about foodborne illnesses that can cause upset stomach, vomiting and diarrhea within hours of eating contaminated food.
Food poisoning, a type of foodborne illness, is a sickness people get from something they ate or drank. The causes are germs or other harmful things in the food or beverage.
Symptoms of food poisoning often include upset stomach, diarrhea and vomiting. Symptoms usually start within hours or several days of eating the food. Most people have mild illness and get better without treatment.
Sometimes food poisoning causes severe illness or complications.
Symptoms vary depending on what is causing the illness. They may begin within a few hours or a few weeks depending on the cause.
Common symptoms are:
Less often food poisoning affects the nervous system and can cause severe disease. Symptoms may include:
Vomiting and diarrhea can quickly cause low levels of body fluids, also called dehydration, in infants and children. This can cause serious illness in infants.
Call your child's health care provider if your child's symptoms include vomiting and diarrhea and any of the following:
Adults should see a health care provider or get emergency care if the following occur:
Many germs or harmful things, called contaminants, can cause foodborne illnesses. Food or drink that carries a contaminant is called "contaminated." Food can be contaminated with any of the following:
The term "food poisoning" is commonly used to describe all foodborne illnesses. A health care provider might use these terms to be more specific:
Food can be contaminated at any point from the farm or fishery to the table. The problem can begin during growing, harvesting or catching, processing, storing, shipping, or preparing.
Food can be contaminated any place it's handled, including the home, because of:
The following table shows common causes of foodborne illnesses, the time from exposure to the beginning of symptoms and common sources of contamination.
|Disease cause||Timing of symptoms||Common sources|
|Bacillus cereus (bacterium)||30 minutes to 15 hours.||Foods such as rice, leftovers, sauces, soups, meats and others that have sat out at room temperature too long.|
|Campylobacter (bacterium)||2 to 5 days.||Raw or undercooked poultry, shellfish, unpasteurized milk, and contaminated water.|
|Clostridium botulinum (bacterium)||18 to 36 hours. Infants: 3 to 30 days.||For infants, honey or pacifiers dipped in honey. Home-preserved foods including canned foods, fermented fish, fermented beans and alcohol. Commercial canned foods and oils infused with herbs.|
|Clostridium perfringens (bacterium)||6 to 24 hours.||Meats, poultry, stews and gravies. Commonly, food that is not kept hot enough when served to a large group. Food left out at room temperature too long.|
|Escherichia coli, commonly called E. coli (bacterium)||Usually, 3 to 4 days. Possibly, 1 to 10 days.||Raw or undercooked meat, unpasteurized milk or juice, soft cheeses from unpasteurized milk, and fresh fruits and vegetables. Contaminated water. Feces of people with E. coli.|
|Giardia lamblia (parasite)||1 to 2 weeks.||Food and water contaminated with feces that carry the parasite. Food handlers who are carriers of the parasite.|
|Hepatitis A (virus)||15 to 50 days.||Raw and undercooked shellfish, fresh fruits and vegetables, and other uncooked food. Food and water contaminated with human feces. Food handlers who have hepatitis A.|
|Listeria (bacterium)||9 to 48 hours for digestive disease. 1 to 4 weeks for body-wide disease.||Hot dogs, luncheon meats, unpasteurized milk, soft cheeses from unpasteurized milk, refrigerated smoked fish, refrigerated pates or meat spreads, and fresh fruits and vegetables.|
|Norovirus (virus)||12 to 48 hours.||Shellfish and fresh fruits and vegetables. Ready-to-eat foods, such as salads and sandwiches, touched by food handlers with the virus. Food or water contaminated with vomit or feces of a person with the virus.|
|Rotavirus (virus)||18 to 36 hours.||Food, water or objects, such as faucet handles or utensils, contaminated with the virus.|
|Salmonella (bacterium)||6 hours to 6 days.||Most often poultry, eggs and dairy products. Other foods such as fresh fruits and vegetables, meat, poultry, nuts, nut products, and spices.|
|Shellfish poisoning (toxin)||Usually 30 to 60 minutes, up to 24 hours.||Shellfish, including cooked shellfish, from coastal seawater contaminated with toxins.|
|Shigella (bacterium)||Usually, 1 to 2 days. Up to 7 days.||Contact with a person who is sick. Food or water contaminated with human feces. Often ready-to-eat food handled by a food worker with shigella.|
|Staphylococcus aureus (bacterium)||30 minutes to 8 hours.||Meat, egg salad, potato salad or cream-filled pastries that have been left out too long or not refrigerated. Foods handled by a person with the bacteria, which is often found on skin.|
|Vibrio (bacterium)||2 to 48 hours.||Raw or undercooked fish or shellfish, especially oysters. Water contaminated with sewage. Rice, millet, fresh fruits and vegetables.|
Bacteria that cause foodborne illnesses can also be found in swimming pools, lakes, ponds, rivers and seawater. Also, some bacteria, such as E. coli, may be spread by exposure to animals carrying the disease.
Anyone can get food poisoning. Some people are more likely to get sick or have more-serious disease or complications. These people include:
In most healthy adults, complications are uncommon. They can include the following.
The most common complication is dehydration. This a severe loss of water and salts and minerals. Both vomiting and diarrhea can cause dehydration.
Most healthy adults can drink enough fluids to prevent dehydration. Children, older adults, and people with weakened immune systems or other illnesses may not be able to replace the fluids they've lost. They are more likely to become dehydrated.
People who become dehydrated may need to get fluids directly into the bloodstream at the hospital. Severe dehydration can cause organ damage, other severe disease and death if not treated.
Some contaminants can cause more widespread disease in the body, also called systemic disease or infection. This is more common in people who are older, have weakened immune systems or other medical conditions. Systemic infections from foodborne bacteria may cause:
Illness from the listeria bacteria during pregnancy can result in:
Rare complications include conditions that may develop after food poisoning, including:
To prevent food poisoning at home:
Food poisoning is especially serious during pregnancies and for young children, older adults and people with weakened immune systems. These illnesses may be life-threatening. These individuals should avoid the following foods:
A diagnosis is based on a physical exam and a review of things that may be causing vomiting, diarrhea or other symptoms. Questions from your health care provider will cover:
Your health care provider will examine you to rule out other causes of illness and check for signs of dehydration.
Your provider may order tests including:
When one person or a family gets food poisoning, it's hard to know what food was contaminated. The time from eating the contaminated food to the time of sickness can be hours or days. During that time, you may have had one or several more meals. This makes it difficult to say what food made you sick.
In a large outbreak, public health officials may be able to find the common food all of the people shared.
Treatment for food poisoning depends on how severe your symptoms are and what caused the illness. In most cases, drug treatment isn't necessary.
Treatment may include the following:
Adults who have diarrhea that isn't bloody and who have no fever may take loperamide (Imodium A-D) to treat diarrhea. They also may take bismuth subsalicylate (Pepto-Bismol, Kaopectate, others) to treat an upset stomach. These nonprescription drugs are not recommended for children.
Ask your doctor about these options.
For most people, symptoms improve without treatment within 48 hours. To help keep yourself more comfortable and prevent dehydration while you recover, try the following:
You'll likely see your primary health care provider. In some cases, you may need to see a specialist in infectious diseases.
Be prepared to answer the following questions.