Food Poisoning (cont.)
Benjamin Wedro, MD, FACEP, FAAEM
Dr. Ben Wedro practices emergency medicine at Gundersen Clinic, a regional trauma center in La Crosse, Wisconsin. His background includes undergraduate and medical studies at the University of Alberta, a Family Practice internship at Queen's University in Kingston, Ontario and residency training in Emergency Medicine at the University of Oklahoma Health Sciences Center.
Charles Patrick Davis, MD, PhD
Dr. Charles "Pat" Davis, MD, PhD, is a board certified Emergency Medicine doctor who currently practices as a consultant and staff member for hospitals. He has a PhD in Microbiology (UT at Austin), and the MD (Univ. Texas Medical Branch, Galveston). He is a Clinical Professor (retired) in the Division of Emergency Medicine, UT Health Science Center at San Antonio, and has been the Chief of Emergency Medicine at UT Medical Branch and at UTHSCSA with over 250 publications.
In this Article
- Food poisoning facts
- What is food poisoning?
- What are the signs and symptoms of food poisoning?
- Are food poisoning and stomach flu the same thing?
- How long does food poisoning last?
- What are the types of food poisoning?
- What are the causes of food poisoning?
- Short incubation of less than 16 to 24 hours
- Intermediate incubation from about 1 to 3 days
- Long incubation of 3 to 5 days
- Very long incubation of up to a month
- When should the doctor be called for food poisoning?
- How is food poisoning diagnosed?
- What is the treatment for food poisoning?
- Are there any home remedies for food poisoning?
- How can food poisoning be prevented?
- What are the complications of food poisoning?
- What is the prognosis for someone with food poisoning?
- Summer Food Safety FAQs
- Find a local Doctor in your town
What is the treatment for food poisoning?
Maintaining good hydration is the first priority when treating food poisoning. Hospitalization may be appropriate if the patient is dehydrated or if they have other underlying medical conditions that become unstable because of the fluid or electrolyte imbalance in their body.
Medications may be prescribed to help control nausea and vomiting.
Medications to decrease the frequency of diarrhea may be indicated, but if food poisoning is suspected, it is best to consult a health-careprofessional before taking OTC (over-the-counter) medications such as loperamide (Imodium), because it may cause increased problems for the patient.
Except for specific infections, antibiotics are not prescribed in the treatment of most food poisoning. Often, the health-careprofessional will decide upon their use based on multiple factors such as the intensity of the disease symptoms, the additional health factors of the patient, a serious response to infection (sepsis), and organ system compromise. For example, a pregnant woman suspected of having listeriosis will likely be treated with IV antibiotics because of the effect of the infection on the fetus.
Complications of certain types of food poisoning are best treated in consultation with infectious disease specialists (for example, HUS, TTP, bovine spongiform encephalopathy).
Are there any home remedies for food poisoning?
The key to home care is being able to keep the affected person hydrated. Oral rehydration therapy with water or a balanced electrolyte solution such as Gatorade or Pedialyte is usually adequate to replenish the body with fluids. A person can lose a significant amount of fluid with each diarrheal bowel movement, and that fluid has to be replaced to rehydrate. People who show any signs of dehydration such as decreased urination, dizziness, or dry mucous membranes, especially in the young or elderly, should see a health-care professional.
How can food poisoning be prevented?
Prevention of food borne illness begins at home with proper food preparation technique.
- Foods should be cooked thoroughly. This especially applies to eggs, poultry, and meat. A meat thermometer can be used to measure the internal temperature of a meat dish.
- Leftovers should be refrigerated immediately so bacteria and viruses do not have time to start growing.
- Wash fruits and vegetables well before eating. This removes dirt, pesticides, chemicals, or other infectious agents used on, or exposed to, the foods in the fields or storage facilities.
- Wash hands routinely before and after handling food to help prevent the spread of infection.
- Thoroughly clean counters and other areas that are used to clean, prepare, and assemble foods. Cross contamination of food is common and can cause food poisonings. For example, a cutting board and knife used to cut raw chicken should be washed thoroughly before cutting up fruit and vegetables to prevent the spread of Salmonella.
- In restaurants, meals are prepared by others. Health inspectors check restaurants routinely and their reports on sanitary practices are usually available online. Make certain the food ordered is thoroughly cooked, especially meats such hamburger.
- Pregnant women and people who have compromised immune systems, such as those undergoing chemotherapy or who are taking medication such as prednisone, should avoid eating soft cheeses like camembert, brie, blue, and feta because of the risk of contracting Listeria. Be very sure all fruits and vegetables are cleaned thoroughly prior to eating, no matter the source.
What are the complications of food poisoning?
The first and most important complication of food poisoning is dehydration. Food poisoning can cause significant loss of body water and changes in the electrolyte levels in the blood.
If the affected individual has underlying medical conditions requiring medication, persistent vomiting may make it difficult to swallow and digest those medications.
Other complications of food poisoning are specific to the type of infection. Some are listed in the causes of food poisoning such as HUS, TTP, or encephalopathy.
What is the prognosis for someone with food poisoning?
Fortunately, most cases of food poisoning resolve within a few hours to days and the affected individual returns to normal function.
Depending upon the cause of the infection, and the patient's underlying medical condition, the infection may cause significant organ damage and even death.
Medically reviewed by Joseph Palermo, DO; American Osteopathic Board Certified Internal Medicine
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Estimates of Foodborne Illness in the United States. Jan 08, 2014
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Epidemiologic Notes and Reports Listeriosis Outbreak Associated with Mexican-Style Cheese - California. May 02, 2001
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Multistate Outbreak of Listeriosis Associated with Jensen Farms Cantaloupe - United States, August--September 2011.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Cyclosporiasis Outbreak Investigations - United States, 2013 (Final Update). Dec 02, 2013
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