Food Poisoning

General Illness Information

Medical Term:


Common Name: None Specified

Description: Abdominal or gastrointestinal symptoms caused by contaminated food ,consumed within the preceding 48 hours. The illness may be caused by bacterial infection itself or by the chemical toxins produced by the bacteria, that contaminated the food. Can affect people who consumed the food (e.g. in restaurant, day care etc.). Symptoms due to bacteria toxins will present in 1-12 hours; Salmonella or virus infection will manifest within 12 to 48 hours.

Causes: Ingestion of contaminated food.

Contaminants may be one of the following: Chemical – insecticide, ingestion of lead (from lead-glazed pottery), etc.; Plants or organisms that contain naturally occurring toxins or poisons e.g. certain mushrooms, or shellfish or certain raw fish; Bacteria such as salmonella, clostridia, staphylococci, E. coli, etc. (including Botulism – a dangerous form of bacterial food poisoning); Viruses such as Norwalk virus found in shellfish, adenovirus and rotavirus.

Prevention: Food poisoning may be prevented by taking following precautions:

  • Avoid raw seafood or meat;
  • Avoid unpasteurized food products;
  • Proper cooking and storage of foods;
  • Keeping food preparation areas, cutting boards, and cooking utensils clean; discarding food items that are old, have an “off” smell, or those in bulging tin cans;
  • Attention to hand washing before preparing food.

Signs & Symptoms

  • Nausea and vomiting;
  • Abdominal cramps or pain;
  • Diarrhea;
  • In severe cases, shock and collapse.

Risk Factors

  • Eating food that is improperly prepared;
  • Lack of good hygiene when preparing food;
  • Drinking water or eating raw foods when traveling in a foreign country.

Ingestion of foods that are more likely to cause food poisoning are:

  • High protein foods- egg salad, cream-filled pastries, poultry and ham;
  • Under-cooked poultry, meat , raw dairy products;
  • Raw and undercooked seafood.

Diagnosis & Treatment

Diagnosis of food poisoning is based mainly  on the history. Laboratory studies involves testing stool samples and sample of the contaminated food. These are sent to the laboratory  for culture, to identify the bacteria responsible for the infection.

General Measures:

  • Most are self-limited and do not require specific therapy;
  • Replacement of fluids and electrolytes is the most important aspect of treatment. In infants, rehydration fluids such as pedialyte and gastrolyte provide adequate electrolyte and fluid replacement. Do not use for more than 1 to2 days without reassessment. In severe dehydration intravenous fluid and electrolyte replacement may be necessary (especially in the elderly and infants);
  • If several persons are affected, local health department should be contacted so they can interview patients and food handlers, and take samples of suspected contaminated food.


  • Antidiarrheal and ant emetics;
  • If symptoms are severe (protracted vomiting, painful abdominal cramps), and the causative agent is known, antibiotics may be prescribed.


Bed rest during acute phase.


  • Liquid diet using special oral glucose-electrolyte preparations, clear broth, or bouillon. Use salt and sugar in liquids to replace what was lost. Try to take small sips even if vomiting continues. This will help with volume replacement and oral rehydration. Avoid milk;
  • Progress to soft, bland diet. Return to regular diet gradually.

Possible Complications:

  • Shock and collapse;
  • Irregular heart beats because of electrolyte imbalance;
  • Hospitalization may be required for a very young patient or an elderly debilitated patient;
  • Spread of infection to the blood and other parts of the body;
  • Seizures and coma from hypoglycemia (low blood sugar).


Most food poisoning is not serious and recovery generally occurs within 3 days.


Nothing Specified.


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