Food poisoning: Symptoms and risks

food poisoningEating food is one of life’s greatest pleasures. It not only provides us valuable energy but can also bring us joy and happiness. This is all the more troubling when food is the cause of our immediate suffering, as in the case when we contract food poisoning.

These are times when we unknowingly eat contaminated food. Infectious organisms such as bacteria, viruses, and parasites or the toxins they produce can be common causes of food poisoning. At any point in the food preparation process, these organisms can contaminate your food if it’s incorrectly handled or cooked.


This is definitely a cause for concern as most of us order our food from eateries or restaurants, so we can only hope that these establishments are staying hygienic.

Effects of food poisoning

The symptoms of food poisoning can start within a couple of hours of ingesting contaminated foods, but it is possible for these organisms to lie in wait, striking a few days later. Food poisoning sickness generally lasts from a few hours to several days. Severe cases may even land you in the hospital. Typical symptoms include:

  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Watery diarrhea
  • Abdominal pain and cramps
  • Fever

Severe symptoms of food poisoning cases can be life threatening and should be immediately taken care by a medical professional. If you experience the following signs and symptoms, seek medical attention as soon as possible:

  • Bloody vomiting or stools
  • Diarrhea that lasts more than three days
  • Frequent episodes of vomiting
  • Inability to keep down food and liquids
  • Extreme abdominal pain or cramping
  • High fever—over 101.5F (38.6C)
  • Dehydration—excessive thirst, dizziness, severe weakness, dry mouth, or little to no urine production
  • Neurological symptoms—blurry vision, muscle weakness, or tingling in the arms

Food contamination can occur before you even purchase your food. Infectious organisms can come into contact with your food during growing, harvesting, processing, storing, or shipping. These events are beyond control of a typical customer. However, you can control the rate of cross-contamination—the transfer of harmful organisms from one surface to another. When handling raw meats, produce, or other foods that are not fully cooked, bacteria, viruses, or parasites pass through with ease.

Common organisms that can trigger food poisoning

Knowing what these infectious organisms are and how they operate is half the battle. The following are some of the most common organisms leading to food poisoning symptoms and the foods they are found in.

Campylobacter. A bacterium that is commonly found in animal feces. It can contaminate meats and poultry during processing. Other sources include unpasteurized milk and contaminated water.

E. coli. A bacterium that is spread with animal feces during slaughter and processing. It is commonly seen in undercooked ground beef.

Listeria. A bacterium commonly found in contaminated soil and water. It can be ingested with hot dogs, luncheon meat, cheeses, and unwashed raw produce.

Shigella. A bacterium commonly found in seafood and raw, ready-to-eat produce.

Salmonella. A bacterium commonly found in contaminated poultry, milk, or egg yolk. It can be easily spread by contaminated knives, cutting surfaces, or an infected food handler.

Giardia lamblia. A parasite that is commonly found in contaminated water and ready-to-eat produce.


Hepatitis A. A virus that can be found on ready-to-eat produce and shellfish from contaminated water.

Most of the time, the symptoms of food poisoning improve without treatment within 48 hours. During this time, you should try to stay comfortable and prevent dehydration. Excessive vomiting and diarrhea can lead to the loss of fluids, which should be replaced with sufficient hydration.

Related: How long does food poisoning last?


Related Reading:

Reduce food poisoning risk by using disinfectant wipes in the kitchen

Food Poisoning Can Become an Emergency – Top Prevention Techniques