How Do You Know If You Have Food Poisoning? Symptoms, Diagnosis and Treatment

If you’ve ever spent a day or two attached to the porcelain throne, with a spare bucket within reach, you know how dreadful food poisoning can be.

I have experienced food poisoning only once in my life (after an eggs benedict brunch), and that was certainly more than enough.

Food poisoning is caused by eating contaminated, spoiled, or toxic food. Most often, the food is contaminated by bacteria like salmonella or E. coli, or a virus like the norovirus.

It is surprisingly common – with 1 in 6 Americans contracting food poisoning in some form every year.

And while it can be a very painful, unpleasant (and maybe a bit embarrassing) experience, the good news is that most people recover within 48 hours.

Symptoms of Food Poisoning

food poisoning symptoms

You’ll notice the symptoms generally within the first two days after eating contaminated food. But the symptoms can actually appear anywhere from a few hours after eating, to a few weeks.

Food poisoning is an illness where the symptoms are very much the same for all who have the unfortunate experience of suffering form it.

The symptoms include:

  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Stomach cramps and abdominal pain
  • Diarrhea
  • Aching Muscles
  • Chills
  • High temperature
  • Lack of energy, feeling weak
  • Loss of appetite

Causes of Food Poisoning

causes of food poisoning

Food can be contaminated with bacteria, parasite, or a virus at any point during the production, processing, or cooking stages.

Food can be contaminated by:

  • Not properly storing foods that needs to be chilled
  • Not thoroughly cooking food (such as meat)
  • Keeping cooked food at warm temperatures for too long
  • Not properly reheating cooked food
  • Eating food past its ‘use by’ date
  • Someone touching the food who has been ill, has dirty hands, or who has been in contact with someone
  • Bacteria from other food cross contaminating the food

What Foods Are Likely To Cause Food Poisoning?

On almost all the food you eat, you will find pathogens. These pathogens are are usually killed through the cooking process.

Foods eaten raw are most susceptible to contamination.

The following foods are susceptible to contamination of not cooked, stored, or handled properly:

  • Raw eggs
  • Raw meat and poultry
  • Raw shellfish
  • Unpasteurized milk
  • Food that is “read to eat”, like deli meats, soft cheese, pre-packed sandwiches, and pâtés
  • Sushi and other fish products that are traditionally served raw or under-cooked
  • Ground beef (as this sometimes contains meat from other animals)
  • Raw, unwashed fruit and vegetables

Three Major Causes of Food Poisoning


Bacteria such as salmonella, E. coli, and Listeria are the most common causes of food poisoning. Especially Salmonella.


Not as common as bacteria – but very dangerous. The most common parasite is Toxoplasma, seen most often in cases of food poisoning. These parasites live you your digestive tracts, and can remain undetected for years.


The Norovirus is a common cause of food poisoning. In some rare cases it can even be fatal. Hepatitis A can also be transmitted through food.

Treatment of Food Poisoning

As dreadful as the vomiting and diarrhea is, your body is working to get rid of bacteria or virus that is bad for it. So, unfortunately, you need to get it all out.

This is why you should try to avoid taking medications like Imodium and Pepto Bismal. Not only will it prevent the body from getting rid of the toxin, it may also mask more serious symptoms. This can lead to a delay in seeking expert treatment when needed.

A result of all the vomiting and diarrhea is that will lose a lot of fluid, so keeping hydrated is very important.

Keep sipping on water throughout the day. Drinking too much in one go may too hard on your stomach, so taking small sips will prevent it from coming right back up.

A sports drink high in electrolytes, and coconut water will both help with hydration and to replace electrolytes.

For elderly people, those with health conditions, and if your food poisoning episode has been particularly bad, an oral rehydration solution (ORS) is essential. You can get these from a pharmacy, and they help replace the electrolytes lost through the vomiting and diarrhea.

Avoid caffeine, as this will aggravate the stomach. If you want a warm drink, sip on chamomile, peppermint, or dandelion tea.

Get plenty of rest. Your body will need some time to recover.

It is also important to try to stay home for the two days after the symptoms have stopped – especially staying home from work or school. This is the time where you are most infectious.

When To See A Doctor

The elderly, pregnant women, and babies and young children should be taken to a doctor right away if food poisoning is suspected.

If you have a weak immune system (from, for example, HIV, cancer treatment, or medication), or you have an underlying medical condition such as diabetes, kidney disease,heart valve disease, or irritable bowel disease, then you should also get straight to a doctor as soon as you think you may have food poisoning.

Your doctor may refer you these patients to the hospital for treatment.

If you are otherwise healthy, but are experience any of the below symptoms, then you should also get to a doctor as soon as possible:

  • Your symptoms haven’t improved after a few days
  • Your symptoms are severe, and you are unable to keep down any fluids due to vomiting repeatedly
  • You are showing signs of severe dehydration, such as passing little to no urine, sunken eyes, confusion, and a rapid heartbeat
  • Blood in your urine

If your food poisoning is caused by certain kinds of bacteria, and your symptoms are severe, your doctor may prescribe antibiotics. Antibiotics will not help with food poisoning caused by a virus, or certain bacteria (in fact, it may make symptoms worse).

If your food poisoning is caused by Listeria, then you will be hospitalized, and the given antibiotics intravenously.

What To Eat After Food Poisoning

Until the vomiting and diarrhea have subsided, hold of on trying to eat solid foods.

Once you are ready, start by introducing bland, low-fat foods that are easy to digest. If the nausea returns, then take another break from eating for a few hours.

The following are some suggestions that will be easy on the tummy:

  • Bananas
  • Gelatin
  • Saltine crackers
  • Oatmeal
  • Rice
  • Chicken broth
  • Toast
  • Boiled vegetables
  • Plain potatoes

Carry on drinking your sports drink or coconut water, or even some diluted fruit juice.

What Foods To Avoid After Food Poisoning

While your tummy is still recovering after a bout of food poisoning, avoid these foods:

  • Fatty foods
  • Dairy (especially milk and cheese)
  • Spicy Foods
  • Fried Foods
  • Foods with a lot of sugar
  • Strongly seasoned foods

Also avoid these drinks:

  • Alcohol
  • Caffeine-based drinks (coffee, sodas, energy drinks)

Avoid nicotine, also, while you are recovering.

Prevention of Food Poisoning

You can prevent food poisoning in your own home by taking certain preventive measures.

Always wash your hands both before cooking and before eating.

When cooking meat or eggs, ensure they are thoroughly cooked before eating. Make sure both cooked food and raw food is sealed properly, and stored correctly.

Chopping boards and knives that are used for raw foods should be thoroughly cleaned before being used again.

Always wash fresh fruits and vegetables before eating them.