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Lahey Health is now part of Beth Israel Lahey Health

by Scheinberg D
(Foodborne Disease; Foodborne Infection)


Food poisoning is a disease that happens after consuming contaminated foods or drinks.

Gastrointestinal System
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This problem happens from food or drinks that contain:

  • Bacteria or poisons made by them
  • Viruses
  • Amoebas or parasites
  • Chemicals

Risk Factors

This problem is more common in babies and older adults. Other things that may raise the risk are:

  • Poor hygiene
  • Poor refrigeration
  • Not knowing how to prepare food safely
  • Having a weak immune system


Problems may not start until hours or weeks after consuming the food or drink. They may be mild to severe.

Problems may be:

  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Weakness
  • Lightheadedness
  • Headache
  • Belly pain or cramps
  • Not urinating
  • A very dry mouth or throat
  • Muscle aches and pains
  • Bloody stools or vomit
  • Fever or chills


The doctor will ask about your symptoms and health history. A physical exam will be done. You will be asked about the foods and drinks you have had. You may also be asked to bring them in for testing.

Tests may be done to look for signs of food poisoning, such as:

  • Blood tests
  • Urine tests
  • Stool tests
  • Vomit tests


Some causes will need to be treated. For example, botulism needs to be treated with an antitoxin. Bacterial food poisoning needs to be treated with antibiotics.

Most people get better in 12 to 48 hours. Self-care choices are:

  • Drinking plenty of fluids
  • Eating soft, bland foods and not eating foods that make problems worse
  • Medicines, such as:
    • Over the counter pain relievers
    • Anti-diarrheal medicine


The risk of this problem may be lowered by:

  • Only eating and drinking milk products that are pasteurized
  • Practicing proper hand hygiene before touching food
  • Cooking foods well
  • Rinsing fresh fruits and vegetables and peeling them before eating them
  • Not putting cooked meat on a surface that once had raw meat on it
  • Using different tools for meat and other foods
  • Not cooking or eating items that use raw egg, such as dressings and sauces
  • Not eating prepared food that has been outside a refrigerator for more than 2 hours, or 1 hour in very hot weather
  • Setting the refrigerator to below 40 degrees Fahrenheit (4 degrees Celsius)
  • To lower the risk when visiting places where this problem is common:
    • Drink bottled water and do not order drinks with ice
    • Only eat cooked fruits and vegetables
    • Do not eat foods from street vendors


American Gastroenterological Association 

Food Safety 


Canadian Association of Gastroenterology 

Canadian Partnership for Consumer Food Safety Education 


Food poisoning. Family Doctor—American Academy of Family Physicians website. Available at: Accessed February 5, 2021.

Food poisoning. website. Available at: Accessed February 5, 2021.

Food poisoning. Kids Health—Nemours Foundation website. Available at: Accessed February 5, 2021.

Foodborne illnesses. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: Accessed February 5, 2021.

Shane AL, Mody RK, et al. 2017 Infectious Diseases Society of America Clinical Practice Guidelines for the Diagnosis and Management of Infectious Diarrhea. Clin Infect Dis. 2017 Nov 29;65(12):e45-e80.

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