Food poisoning results from eating food contaminated with
bacteria (or their toxins) or other pathogens such as parasites
or viruses. The illnesses range from upset stomach to more
serious symptoms, including diarrhea, fever, vomiting,
abdominal cramps, and dehydration.
Harmful bacteria are the most common causes of food
poisoning. Some bacteria may be present on foods when you
purchase them. Raw foods are not sterile. Raw meat and poultry
may become contaminated during slaughter. Seafood may become
contaminated during harvest or through processing.
One in 20,000 eggs may be contaminated with
Salmonella inside the egg shell. Produce such as
lettuce, tomatoes, sprouts, and melons can become contaminated
with Salmonella, Shigella, or Escherichia coli (E.
coli) O157:H7. Contamination can occur during growing,
harvesting, processing, storing, shipping, or final
In most cases of food poisoning, symptoms resemble
intestinal flu and may last a few hours or even several days.
Symptoms can range from mild to serious and include
- abdominal cramps
Some people are at greater risk for bacterial infections
because of their age or immune status. Young children, pregnant
women and their fetuses, the elderly, and people with lowered
immunity are at greatest risk.
Some Complications from micro-organisms, such as Listeria
monocytogenes and Clostridium botulinum, cause
far more serious illness than vomiting or diarrhea. They can
cause spontaneous abortion or death.
Your doctor may be able to diagnose food poisoning from a
list of what you've recently eaten and results from the proper
laboratory tests. Diagnostic tests for food poisoning should
include examination of the feces. A sample of the suspected
food, if available, can also be tested for bacteria and their
toxins as well as for viruses and parasites.
Most cases of food poisoning are mild and can be treated by
increasing fluid intake, either orally or intravenously, to
replace lost fluids and electrolytes. In cases with
gastrointestinal or neurologic symptoms, people should seek
In the most severe situations, such as HUS, the patient may
need hospitalization in order to receive supportive nutritional
and medical therapy. Maintaining adequate fluid and electrolyte
balance and controlling blood pressure are important. Doctors
will try to minimize the impact of reduced kidney function.
Early dialysis is crucial until the kidneys can function
normally again, and blood transfusions may be needed.
Most cases of food poisoning can be prevented through proper
cooking or processing of food, which kills bacteria. In
addition, because bacteria multiply rapidly between 40°F and
140°F, food must be kept out of this "danger zone."
To prevent harmful bacteria from growing in food, always
- Refrigerate foods promptly. If you let prepared food
stand at room temperature for more than 2 hours, it may not
be safe to eat. Set your refrigerator at 40°F or lower and
your freezer at 0°F.
- Cook food to the appropriate temperature (145°F for
roasts, steaks, and chops of beef, veal, and lamb; 160°F
for pork, ground veal, and ground beef; 165°F for ground
poultry; and 180°F for whole poultry). Use a thermometer
to be sure! Foods are properly cooked only when
they are heated long enough and at a high enough
temperature to kill the harmful bacteria that cause
- Prevent cross-contamination. Bacteria can spread from
one food product to another throughout the kitchen and can
get onto cutting boards, knives, sponges, and countertops.
Keep raw meat, poultry, seafood, and their juices away from
other foods that are ready to eat.
Food irradiation is the treatment of food with high energy
such as gamma rays, electron beams, or x rays as a means of
cold pasteurization, which destroys living bacteria, to control
foodborne disease. The United States relies exclusively on the
use of gamma rays, which are similar to ultraviolet light and
microwaves and pass through the food leaving no residue or
Food irradiation is currently approved for wheat, potatoes,
spices, seasonings, pork, poultry, red meats, whole fresh
fruits, and dry or dehydrated products. Although irradiation
destroys many bacteria, it does not sterilize food. Even if
you're using food that has been irradiated by the manufacturer,
you must continue to take precautions against food poisoning,
through proper refrigeration and handling, to safeguard against
any surviving organisms.
Scientists suspect that foodborne pathogens are linked to
chronic disorders and can even cause permanent tissue or organ
destruction. Research suggests that when some people are
infected by foodborne pathogens, the activation of their immune
system can trigger an inappropriate autoimmune response, which
means the immune system attacks the body's own cells. In some
people, an autoimmune response leads to a chronic health
Chronic disorders that may be triggered by foodborne
Further research is needed to explain the link.
- food poisoning results from eating food that is
contaminated with bacteria, viruses,
- Treatment may range from replacement of lost fluids and
electrolytes for mild cases of food poisoning, to
hospitalization for severe conditions such as hemolytic
You can prevent food poisoning by taking the following
- Wash your hands with hot, soapy water before preparing
food and after using the bathroom or changing diapers.
- Keep raw meat, poultry, or seafood and their juices
away from ready-to-eat foods.
- Cook foods properly and at a high enough temperature to
kill harmful bacteria.
Reference for Food Poisoning
National Institutes of Health
The National Cancer
The National Eye Institute
The National Heart, Lung, and Blood
National Institute on Aging
National Institute of Allergy and
National Institute of Arthritis and
Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases
National Institute of Diabetes and
Digestive and Kidney Diseases
National Institute on Drug
National Institute of Mental
National Institute of Neurological
Disorders and Stroke