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Food poisoning – Duration, Onset, Causes, Types, Signs, Remedies

Updated on August 19, 2014

Food poisoning refers to illnesses caused by consumption of foods or beverages which contain toxins, bacteria, viruses, chemicals or other contaminants. Bacterial contamination is the most common form of food adulteration, and most cases of bacterial food poisoning arise due to contamination by E. coli, staph, and salmonella bacteria.

Food poisoning typically lasts for around 2 days. It can be treated at home, though medical care is recommended. Food poisoning cases that continue for over 2 days have to be checked by a doctor.

Symptoms of food poisoning

Food poisoning signs and symptoms generally arise a few minutes or some hours after intake of contaminated beverages or food. The symptoms of food poisoning caused by chemical or toxin ingestion tend to manifest faster than those caused by bacterial or viral contamination.

A few common symptoms of food poisoning are mentioned below:

  • Severe headaches
  • Achy muscles
  • Cramps in the abdomen
  • Unexpected commencement of severe diarrhea
  • Nausea
  • Elevated weakness or exhaustion
  • Sudden fever without any known cause. The fever may be accompanied by other anomalous symptoms of food poisoning.

Duration of food poisoning

Severe pain in stomach accompanied by nausea and vomiting may occur 4 to 6 hours after consumption of adulterated seafood or salads. Food poisoning symptoms may also occur even 1 to several days after eating raw fish or meat. In very rare situations, the symptoms may arise and persist for many months or even some years. The commencement of symptoms is mostly dependent on the amount of adulterated food ingested as well as the kind of toxins and germs occurring in them.

Bacteria and other pathogens enter the body after contaminated food is eaten. Later, they make the digestive tract their home and begin rapid reproduction. The symptoms of food poisoning are caused due to the effect of toxins secreted by the pathogens, or their direct attack on internal organs. This process causes a time gap between intake of contaminated food and the onset of food poisoning symptoms. This time gap is called the incubation period and its duration is helpful in finding out the causes, as elucidated below:

  • Intake of food contaminated with bacillus cereus or staphylococcus aureus bacteria causes the onset of symptoms after about 4 to 6 hours.
  • The time gap between intake of foods contaminated with C. perfringens, vibrio parahaemolyticus, salmonella, and clostridium botulinum bacteria, and the advent of food poisoning symptoms is about 12 to 24 hours, or more.
  • Intake of E. coli contaminated foods and drinks can cause adverse symptoms in around 3 days.
  • The onset of food poisoning symptoms associated with intake of toxins, chemicals, and allergens, etc., is quite rapid.

Individuals at most risk to food poisoning

Food poisoning is a widely prevalent condition. However, the pathogen or toxin content is minimal in most cases, and can be easily dealt with by the immune system. It may also be noted that even minor food poisoning cases can result in discomforting symptoms in the following groups of individuals:

  • Persons with compromised immune systems
  • Persons with kidney problems or diabetes
  • Infants, young children, and the elderly
  • Pregnant or breastfeeding mothers

Types of foods that most often cause food poisoning

Contaminated and non-adulterated foods appear, taste, and smell almost the same. Hence it is very difficult to distinguish between the two.

Foods that are most likely to become contaminated and cause food poisoning include:

  • Fishes
  • Poultry like chicken, duck, wild games, etc.
  • Dairy items like unpasteurized milk, incorrectly treated cheese, etc.
  • Meats like lamb and goat mutton, pork, beef, etc.
  • Shellfish dishes are regarded as the most common and the most dangerous cause of food poisoning.

Eating unwashed and raw fruits and vegetables, even when they are fresh, as well as intake of processed food items stored at incorrect temperatures can also lead to food poisoning.

Places at most risk to food poisoning

Food poisoning is usually not caused after eating homemade dishes or raw fruits and vegetables, as long as they are washed or cooked properly. Processed tin foods that have been opened are also fine if they are stocked at the right temperatures.

The places at most risk to food poisoning include food served at:

  • Social get-togethers like congregations, society gatherings, receptions, etc.
  • Outdoor picnics
  • School and office cafeterias
  • All places where an external caterer provides the food.

The foods at such gatherings and places are usually kept outdoors without refrigeration, and often for long periods of time.Such conditions are ideal for contamination by bacteria, viruses, toxins, and other germs, thereby increasing the risk to food poisoning.

Treatment of food poisoning

  • A majority of food poisoning instances resolve on their own in around two days. However, individuals suffering from serious or prolonged symptoms of food poisoning have to immediately consult a doctor.
  • Antibiotics may be prescribed by the doctor to treat food poisoning caused by bacterial infection.
  • Minor symptoms can be alleviated by drinking lots of water and the use of non-prescription medications.


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    • shara63 profile image


      4 years ago from Delhi

      Informative hub, as it awares about the problems caused by some kind of food & food habits and also prevention of it , is very useful for day to day life !


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