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How long does food poisoning last?

Updated on March 24, 2014

Food poisoning is a condition caused due to intake of food or drinks that are contaminated with viruses, bacteria, toxins, or chemicals. The most common cause of food adulteration is by bacteria, and staph, salmonella, and E. coli contaminations are the most types of bacterial food poisoning.

Most cases of food poisoning last for about a couple of days and can be treated with home remedies. However, if the issue persists for more than two days, then medical treatment is vital. It is also recommended to consult a doctor in all cases of food poisoning.

Symptoms of food poisoning

The signs and symptoms of food poisoning typically occur within some minutes to around eight hours after the ingestion of contaminated food or drinks. Some of the common symptoms of food poisoning are listed below:

  • Nausea
  • Sudden onset of severe diarrhea
  • Abdominal cramping
  • Aching muscles
  • Vomiting
  • Sudden onset of fever with no known causes. The fever may occur along with other abnormal symptoms
  • Intense headache
  • Inexplicable tiredness and extreme weakness

In cases of food poisoning caused by toxins or chemicals the symptoms tend to have a more rapid onset as compared to those arising due to a virus or bacterium.

Time period for manifestation of food poisoning

Intense stomach pain along with vomiting and nausea may appear within 4 to 6 hours after intake of contaminated salads or seafood. It is also possible for food poisoning symptoms to arise even one or many days after consumption of raw meat or fish.In very rare cases, food poisoning symptoms may occur and last for months or even years. In most instances, the onset of symptoms are dependent on the quantity of contaminated foods that are eaten as well as the type of pathogens and toxins present in them.

Bacteria and other germs occurring in contaminated food enter the body, establish in the digestive tract, and then begin rapidly multiplying. They may directly attack the internal glands or release toxins to cause the adverse symptoms associated with food poisoning.

Food poisoning symptoms thus take some time to appear after ingestion of adulterated food or drinks. This timeframe between intake of foods and appearance of symptoms is known as the incubation period. The duration of the incubation period is helpful in ascertaining the causative factors of food poisoning.

The symptoms of food poisoning caused due to bacillus cereus and staphylococcus aureus typically occur 4 to 6 hours after intake of contaminated food. The incubation period for food poisoning byclostridium botulinum, salmonella, vibrio parahaemolyticus, and C. perfringens bacteria is usually around 12 hours to a day or even more. Food poisoning symptoms associated with E. coli appear after about three days.

As discussed above, food poisoning due to toxins, allergens, or chemicals usually have a rapid onset.

Foods that are most likely to result in food poisoning

It is almost impossible to differentiate between healthy and contaminated foods as both taste, look, and smell almost similar.

Food items that are most susceptible to food poisoning include poultry such as duck, chicken, wild games, etc.; meats such as lamb/mutton, beef, pork, etc.; dairy products such as improperly treated cheeses, unpasteurized milk, etc.; and fishes.Shellfish is considered as one of the most common and deadliest causes of food poisoning.

Intake of fresh vegetables and fruits when eaten raw and unwashed, and processed food products that have not been stocked at correct temperatures can also result in food poisoning.

People who are most vulnerable to food poisoning

Food poisoning is quite common. However, in most cases the level of toxins or germs is minor and effectively fought off by the immune system.However, even mild instances of food poisoning can cause adverse symptoms in the below listed groups of people:

  • Breastfeeding or pregnant women
  • Older adults, young children, and infants
  • People with diabetes or kidney anomalies
  • Individuals with impaired immune systems

The most vulnerable places for food poisoning

Raw vegetables and fruits consumed at home as well as home-cooked food that are washed and cooked properly typically do not cause food poisoning. Opened processed tin foods are also okay if they are stored at the required temperatures.

People should however be careful about the food that they intake at social gatherings such as receptions, congregations, and society gatherings; office and school cafeterias; picnics; and all those places where food is provided by an external caterer. In most cases, the foods at these places are kept out in the open without proper refrigeration for longer durations, thereby increasing the risk to contamination by viruses, bacteria, and toxins. Hence, eating foods at such places pose increased risk to food poisoning.

Treatment of food poisoning

Most cases of food poisoning disappear on their own within a couple of days. In case of severe food poisoning symptoms, or if they persist for more than two days, seek immediate medical attention.

Food poisoning caused by bacteria may require treatment with antibiotics.

Intake of lots of water and OTC medications to alleviate accompanying symptoms also help.

Food Poisoning Pictures


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