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Symptoms and Sources of Food Poisoning

Food poisoning symptoms may range from mild to severe and may differ depending on the germ you swallowed. The most common symptoms of food poisoning include:

  • Upset stomach
  • Stomach cramps
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Fever
Picture of some one suffering from food poisoning holding their stomach

After you consume a contaminated food or drink, it may take hours or days before you develop symptoms.

Most people have only mild illnesses, lasting a few hours to several days. However, some develop severe illness requiring hospitalization, and some illnesses result in long-term health problems or even death. Infections transmitted by food can result in chronic arthritis, brain and nerve damage, and hemolytic uremic syndrome (HUS), which causes kidney failure.

Signs and Symptoms of Some Foodborne Germs

Common foodborne illnesses
Germ Typical Signs and Symptoms  Typical Time for Symptoms to Appear Common Food Sources
Campylobacter, Bacteria
  • Diarrhea (often bloody), stomach cramps/pain, fever
2 to 5 days
  • Raw or undercooked poultry
  • Raw (unpasteurized) milk
  • Contaminated water
Clostridium botulinum, Bacteria
  • Double or blurred vision, drooping eyelids
  • Slurred speech
  • Difficulty swallowing and dry mouth
  • Muscle weakness
  • Difficulty breathing and paralysis.

Symptoms start in the head and move down as severity increases

 18 to 36 hours
  • Improperly canned or fermented foods, usually homemade
  • Prison-made illicit alcohol
Clostridium perfringens, Bacteria
  • Diarrhea, stomach cramps
  • Vomiting and fever are uncommon
6 to 24 hours (typically 8 to 12).
The illness usually begins suddenly and lasts for less than 24 hours
  • Beef
  • Poultry
  • Gravies
  • Dried or precooked foods
Cyclospora, Parasite
  • Watery diarrhea and loss of appetite, weight loss
  • Stomach cramps/pain, bloating, increased gas, nausea, and fatigue.
  • Vomiting, body aches, headache, fever, and other flu-like symptoms may occur.
1 week
  • Raw fruits, vegetables, and herbs
Escherichia coli, Shiga toxin-producing, such as O157, Bacteria
  • Severe stomach cramps, diarrhea (often bloody), and vomiting.
  • If there is fever, usually it is less than 101˚F.
  • Around 5-10% of people diagnosed with this infection develop a life-threatening complication called hemolytic uremic syndrome, a type of kidney failure.
 3 to 4 days after exposure, but may be as short as 1 day or long as 10 days
  •  Raw or undercooked ground beef
  • Unpasteurized (raw) milk and juice
  • Raw vegetables, such as lettuce and sprouts
  • Contaminated water
Listeria, Bacteria Pregnant women typically experience
  • Fever and other flu-like symptoms, such as fatigue and muscle aches.
  • However, infections during pregnancy usually lead to miscarriage, stillbirth, premature delivery, or life-threatening infection of the newborn.

People other than pregnant women (most often adults aged 65 and older):

  • Headache, stiff neck, confusion, loss of balance and convulsions in addition to fever and muscle aches.
1 to 4 weeks
  • Raw (unpasteurized) milk
  • Soft cheeses made with unpasteurized milk, such as queso fresco, queso blanco, panela, brie, Camembert, blue-veined, or feta
  • Raw sprouts
  • Melons
  • Hot dogs, pâtés, lunch meats, and cold cuts
  • Smoked seafood
Norovirus, Virus
  • Diarrhea, vomiting, nausea, stomach pain
12 to 48 hours
  • Can spread from an infected person from contaminated food or water, or by touching contaminated surfaces.
  • Leafy greens (such as lettuce), fresh fruits, shellfish (such as oysters)
Salmonella, Bacteria
  • Diarrhea, fever, stomach cramps,vomiting
12 to 72 hours
  • Eggs
  • Raw or undercooked poultry
  • Raw or undercooked meat
  • Unpasteurized milk or juice
  • Cheese
  • Raw fruits and vegetables
Staphylococcus aureus (Staph), Bacteria
  • Vomiting, nausea, stomach cramps, diarrhea
30 minutes to 6 hours
  • Foods that are handled by people and not cooked. Examples are sliced meat, puddings, pastries, and sandwiches
  • People can spread the germs to food when they touch it without first washing their hands
  • Unpasteurized (raw) milk and cheese made from it
Vibrio, Bacteria
  • Watery diarrhea, stomach cramps, nausea, vomiting
  • Fever, and chills
24 hours
  • Raw or undercooked shellfish, particularly oysters

If you believe you or someone you know got sick from food, even if you don’t know what food it was, please report it to your local health department. Reporting your illness may help public health officials identify a foodborne disease outbreak and keep others from getting sick.

When to See a Doctor

If you experience symptoms of food poisoning, such as diarrhea or vomiting, drink plenty of fluids to prevent dehydration.

See your doctor or healthcare provider if you have symptoms that are severe, including:

  • High fever (temperature over 101.5°F, measured orally)
  • Blood in stools
  • Frequent vomiting that prevents keeping liquids down (which can lead to dehydration)
  • Signs of dehydration, including a marked decrease in urination, a very dry mouth and throat, or feeling dizzy when standing up.
  • Diarrhea that lasts more than 3 days
Grandparents and baby

Groups More Likely to Get Food Poisoning

Anyone can get a foodborne illness, but people in certain groups are more likely to get sick and to have a more serious illness. These groups of people are:

  • Children younger than 5 years
  • Adults aged 65 and older
  • People with immune systems weakened due to medical conditions such as diabetes, liver or kidney disease, alcoholism, and HIV/AIDS; or to receiving chemotherapy or radiation therapy.
  • Pregnant women

If you or someone you care for has a greater chance of food poisoning, it’s especially important to take steps to prevent food poisoning and to know which foods are more associated with food poisoning than others.


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