Food poisoning is a common condition that affects millions of people in the United States each year. Nausea, vomiting, watery diarrhea and fever are some of the common symptoms of food poisoning. These symptoms start within hours of eating contaminated food. But do you know how long does food poisoning last?

Food poisoning duration can last from a few hours to several days. Read on to learn more about food poisoning timeline, symptoms and causes.

What is food poisoning?

Food poisoning is an illness that is caused by eating or drinking food contaminated with bacteria, viruses, parasites, toxins or chemicals.

According to the US Food and Drug Administration, while American food supply is amongst the safest in the world, America sees about 48 million cases of foodborne illnesses every year.

Each year this results in around 128,000 hospitalizations and 3,000 deaths (1). Infants, children, the elderly, people with compromised immune systems and those suffering from chronic illnesses are more vulnerable to food poisoning.

What causes food poisoning?

Contamination of food causes food poisoning. This contamination can occur at any point during the production like growing, harvesting, processing, storing, shipping and preparing.

Food can also get contaminated by the transfer of organisms from one surface to the other. Uncooked ready to eat foods like salads are especially vulnerable to contamination as the harmful organisms on them are not destroyed while cooking.

Bacteria, parasites, and viruses are the three major causes of food poisoning (2).

How long does food poisoning last?

Food poisoning duration depends on the organism that you have been infected with and the amount of the contaminated food you may have consumed.

These are some of the different organisms that cause food poisoning and the time it takes for the onset of the symptoms and the duration of the infection.

 

OrganismName of illnessOnset of symptomsFood sourcesDuration
Campylobacter jejuniCampylobacteriosis2 to 5 daysDaw or undercooked poultry, unpasteurized milk and contaminated water2 to 10 days
Clostridium botulinumBotulism12 to 72 hoursImproperly canned foods, especially home-canned vegetables and fishVariable
Clostridium perfringensPerfringens food poisoning8 to 16 hoursMeat, poultry, gravy, dried or precooked foods, time or temperature abused foodsUsually 24 hours
Escherichia coliE. coli infection1 to 3 daysWater or food contaminated by human  feces3 to 7  or more days
Hepatitis AHepatitis28 days averageRaw produce,

contaminated drinking water

Variable

Two weeks to 3 months

Listeria monocytogenesListeriosis9 to 48 hoursUnpasteurized milk and cheese, ready to eat deli meatsVariable
NorovirusesViral gastroenteritis12 to 48 hoursRaw produce, uncooked food, contaminated water12 to 60 hours
SalmonellaSalmonellosis6 to 48 hoursEgg, poultry, meat, cheese, unpasteurized milk or juice, raw fruits, and vegetables4 to 7 days
ShigellaShigellosis4 to 7 daysRaw produce,

contaminated drinking water, uncooked food

24 to 48 hours
Staphylococcus aureusStaphylococcal food poisoning1 to 6 hoursImproperly refrigerated meats, potato, eggs salads24 to 48 hours

 

What are the symptoms of food poisoning?

The symptoms of food poisoning usually vary according to the source of the contamination. In some cases, the symptoms appear within an hour of ingesting contaminated food, in other cases, they can take weeks to appear.

While signs of Salmonellosis appear between six to 48 hours, Hepatitis A symptoms appear after 28 days on an average.

The typical signs of food poisoning include stomach cramps, nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea.

Sometimes when the condition gets worse, the symptoms can also include dehydration, blood in stool or vomit, high fever, headache, weakness, blurry vision, bloating, numbing, burning or tingling in the extremities.

In some extreme cases, food poisoning can lead to liver problems, renal problems, reactive arthritis, seizures and even death.

The symptoms of food poisoning also depend on which organ system is affected by the toxin. The botulinum toxin affects the neurological system.

Risk factor

Some people are at a higher risk when it comes to food poisoning. These include –

Infants

The immune system of the infants and younger children are not fully developed, so they are at a higher risk of developing infections.

Pregnant women

During pregnancy, a woman’s body goes through many changes. This makes the woman more vulnerable to food poisoning, and it can also increase the severity of the symptoms. In some rare cases, the baby may also get affected.

Older adults

As we grow old, our immune system also becomes weak. This weakened immune system can not fend off infections as easily.

People with chronic diseases

People with chronic diseases like diabetes, liver disease, and aids have a weakened immune system. People who are receiving chemotherapy or radiotherapy also have a weak immune system.

These people are more vulnerable to infections that may lead to food poisoning.

What to do if you have food poisoning?

Most cases of food poisoning can easily be treated at home. Most cases get resolved in four to five days. If you have diarrhea or are vomiting, you should try and prevent dehydration.

Avoid eating and drinking anything at all for a few hours, but as soon as you are a little better, start taking small sips of water. You can also drink a rehydration solution. These solutions replace the fluids and electrolytes in the body.

Once you are feeling a little better, ease into eating and drinking. Begin eating with bland foods like bananas, toasts, crackers, cereal, and rice.

Fruit juice and coconut water help rehydrate the body and prevent fatigue. Tea made with soothing herbs like chamomile, dandelion, and peppermint can calm an upset stomach.

Avoid spicy foods, fried foods, carbonated beverages, caffeine, dairy products and foods high in fat and sugar.

Rest and relax till your symptoms subside.

When should you consult a doctor?

Some people experience more severe symptoms of food poisoning as compared to others. You must consult a doctor if you experience any of the following symptoms.

  1. Diarrhea for more than three days
  2. Vomiting for more than two days
  3. Bloody stools
  4. Fever over 101ºF

When should you seek emergency care?

Sometimes the symptoms get serious; you need to seek emergency care. Rush the patient to emergency if:

  1. There is a lot of blood in the stool.
  2. There is vomit in the blood.
  3. There is severe abdominal cramping.
  4. The patient is showing signs of extreme dehydration like dry mouth, excessive thirst, no urination, weakness, dizziness, and lightheadedness.
  5. There is trouble breathing and swallowing.

How can food poisoning be prevented?

Follow these few tips to prevent food poisoning at home.

1. Wash your hands

Wash your hands thoroughly before you handle any food. Also wash your hands after handling raw food like eggs, meat, fish, and vegetables.

2. Clean worktops

Clean your worktops before and after you have prepared your food if you have prepared meat or fish.

3. Use separate chopping boards

Use different chopping boards for raw meat and fish to avoid cross-contamination.

4. Cook food thoroughly

Make sure you cook poultry, pork, burgers, kebabs, and sausages thoroughly. You can use a meat thermometer to measure the temperature of a meat dish.

5. Refrigerate leftovers immediately

You must refrigerate all your leftover food immediately so that bacteria and viruses do not have time to start growing.

6. Wash fruits and vegetables

Washing fruits and vegetables before eating removes dirt, pesticides, chemicals or infectious agents that these foods have been exposed to when they are grown or in the storage facilities.

7. Keep your fridge below 5C

Keeping your fridge below 5ºC prevents harmful germs from growing on the food. Avoid overfilling the refrigerator. If it is too full, the air can not circulate properly, and this affects the temperature of the fridge.

8. Respect use-by dates

Use-by dates of the food are based on scientific tests that show how quickly harmful bacteria can develop in the packaged food. Do not eat food that’s past its use-by date even if it tastes and smells ok.

What’s the difference between food poisoning and stomach flu?

Vomiting and diarrhea are the typical symptoms of stomach flu and food poisoning, which is why people often get confused between the two.

Food poisoning is a disease caused by contaminated food, whereas stomach flu does not have to be related to a food source. The stomach flu (gastroenteritis) refers to the inflammation of the gastrointestinal tract.

Stomach flu is usually a viral infection that lasts for a few days. Food poisoning is often a more severe infection than stomach flu.

While antibiotics may be needed to treat food poisoning caused by bacteria, for stomach flu antibiotics are not useful. Stomach flu lasts about one to three days, but food poisoning usually lasts for up to 10 days.

Final thoughts

Food poisoning affects millions of Americans every year. This illness is usually caused when we eat or drink contaminated food. Diarrhea, vomiting, and stomach cramps are its characteristic symptoms.

By now you must have got an idea about food poisoning duration. It can last from a few days to a few weeks depending on the source of the infection.

While most cases of food poisoning can be treated at home, you must consult a doctor if the symptoms are severe. Maintain proper hygiene in the kitchen to avoid food poisoning.

Do you know how long does food poisoning last? It can last from a few hours to days. The duration depends on organism behind the infection