About Staph Food Poisoning


  • Staphylococcus aureus (Staph) are bacteria.
  • Many people carry Staph on their skin and in their nose.
  • Staph can spread from unwashed hands and contaminate food.
  • After getting in food, Staph can multiply and make a toxin that causes food poisoning.
Purple Staphylococcus aureus bacterial dots clustered together on a dark purple background.


Staph food poisoning is a gastrointestinal illness. It is caused by toxins made by Staphylococcus aureus (Staph) bacteria.

About 1 in every 4 people and animals carries (has) Staph on their skin and in their nose. Staph usually do not cause illness in healthy people who carry it, but the bacteria have the ability to make toxins that can cause food poisoning.

Keep in mind‎

This page focuses on Staph food poisoning. You also can learn about Staph infections caused by methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) and Staph infections in healthcare settings.


Symptoms of Staph food poisoning include:

  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Stomach cramps
  • Diarrhea

Symptoms usually start suddenly within 30 minutes to 8 hours after eating contaminated food. They last 24 hours or less.

Severe illness is rare.

Risk factors

Foods that are not cooked after handling are especially risky if contaminated with Staph. These foods include sliced meats, puddings, pastries, and sandwiches.

Foods that are cooked also can be risky if held at unsafe temperatures (between 40°F and 140°F). Even though cooking can kill Staph, it does not destroy the toxin in the food.

How it spreads

Staph can contaminate food if people who carry the bacteria touch food without first washing their hands. Staph can multiply in contaminated food and make a toxin that causes food poisoning.

You can take steps to prevent Staph food poisoning.

Testing and diagnosis

Laboratory tests can detect toxin-producing Staph in stool, vomit, and foods. However, these tests are usually not ordered except during an outbreak.

If you have severe symptoms, contact your healthcare provider.

Your healthcare provider might suspect you have Staph food poisoning based on your symptoms and how soon they go away.



People with vomiting or diarrhea should drink plenty of fluids to prevent dehydration. Dehydration is not having enough water in the body.

People with severe illness may require intravenous (IV) fluids.


Talk to your healthcare provider about medication to help with nausea and vomiting, if needed.

Antibiotics are not used to treat Staph food poisoning because they do not affect the toxin.