Emergency Care For You

Emergencies A-Z

Food Poisoning

In the United States approximately 10,000 people die each year from food poisoning, and many more become ill and require medical attention.

Food poisoning can be caused by several different bacteria, such as salmonella or botulism. Although certain types of food poisoning can be fatal, most cases run their course in a couple of days.

Symptoms of food poisoning are similar to those of the flu, except for fever, which is more likely to occur with the flu, and should be treated the same. They usually begin from two hours to two days after eating the tainted food and include:

  • Headache
  • Nausea
  • Diarrhea and/or vomiting
  • Stomach cramps or pain

More serious symptoms can include blurred vision, fatigue and a dry mouth.

Actions

Sip water or diluted juice as soon as vomiting has decreased. If symptoms continue for more than 24 hours, or if you are unable to tolerate any fluids, contact your primary care doctor or visit the emergency department. Also seek emergency care if you become dehydrated. Most adults can handle one day without nutrition, but continued vomiting to the point of dehydration requires medical attention. Finally, be aware that adults can handle dehydration better than small children and that high fever also can indicate a more serious illness.

Preventive Measures

  • Keep a clean kitchen. Regularly wash or sanitize counters, cutting boards and utensils.
  • Wash your hands before preparing foods and before eating.
  • Check dates on food labels and throw out expired food.
  • Use special care when preparing or storing meat, poultry and shellfish. Separate raw foods from other foods. For example, if you cut raw chicken on a cutting board, make sure you wash the cutting board and your hands before you slice raw vegetables on it. And don't use the same knife without washing it.
  • After handling raw foods, immediately and thoroughly wash hands, utensils and preparation surfaces.
  • Follow any recommended precautions on food labels.
  • Rinse foods that are not cooked before they are eaten, such as fresh fruits and vegetables.
  • Cook foods thoroughly. Never partially cook meat or poultry and then finish cooking it later. Use a food thermometer in cooking.
  • Refrigerate leftover meat, seafood, dairy products, eggs, or poultry as soon as possible. Do not let these foods sit out of the refrigerator longer than two hours. Make sure your refrigerator maintains a temperature of 40 degrees F (4 degrees C) or below and your freezer is 0 degrees F or below. Refrigerate or freeze perishable or prepared foods within two hours of purchase or preparation. Marinate foods in the refrigerator.
  • Don't eat raw shellfish. Don't eat or drink unpasteurized dairy products.
  • Eat foods soon after they have been cooked.
  • Do not keep leftovers long. If you have any doubts, throw them out.
  • Never give honey to infants, even in small amounts, because of the risk of botulism.

For more information about food safety, visit www.foodsafety.gov.