Food Poisoning Symptoms, Causes, Home Remedies & Treatment

Jessica Lewis
August 20, 2016

Foodborne poisoning is a health problem and occurs in people who consume contaminated food and drink. Scientists discovered around 200 pathogens that can cause a foodborne disease. Unfortunately, 76 million people develop a foodborne disease annually. Many of them end up in the hospital and is estimated that a few thousands of these people die because of contaminated food or drink. To avoid getting sick, people can be more careful with their personal hygiene, the way they handle and prepare the food.

Food Poisoning

Different foodborne diseases can be caused by parasites, toxins, bacteria, and viruses. Specialists are doing their best to investigate the foodborne diseases, but in more than half of the cases they don’t have an answer. They cannot find the source of the contamination. In many cases, the cause of the foodborne disease was a virus. A virus has a short life. That doesn’t give too much time to doctors to examine its nature and to come to a satisfactory conclusion. Another cause of a foodborne disease is bacteria. Scientists conducted many studies about different types of bacteria.

The first outbreaks of foodborne diseases were caused by home-canned foods and contaminated foods that people consumed during a picnic. Doctors could help the people faster because the cause was Clostridium or Staphylococcus. Nowadays, people tend to dine outside the home (restaurants, bistros, bars, etc.), and they travel all around the world. This is the reason why the majority of the foodborne diseases occur now from external sources, and most of the time is difficult to find the contaminated source: people eat in many places, where food is handled by many people as well.

The new technology can produce food for hundreds or thousands of people. It is much easier to get sick than it was back in the days. When a person decides to travel should consider boiling, peeling and cooking of food products bought in a foreign land. Even innocent food gifts from other countries can sometimes expose people to food or drink contamination. Ships traveling from one port to another and carrying international food shipments can also be a source of contamination.

People started consuming imported food because they wanted to consume some foods when they were not in season. But the way these foods are produced and harvested is not always a controlled and supervised one. When the producers use raw manure to fertilize the soil, they can also contaminate the products. It is vital for these imported food products to be cleaned properly, and the vegetables and the fruits to be washed several times.

People who like ethnic food should be careful as well. The African American dish called chitterlings (cooked swine intestines) represents a danger to the health if it is cooked improperly. Many kids got sick with Yersinia enterocolitis because they consumed this food. People can get sick with listeriosis if they consume contaminated fresh cheese made from unpasteurized milk.[1]

Foodborne diseases are more common among very young children or older people. They can also affect people with a compromised immune system and pregnant women.

It seems like almost any food can cause a foodborne disease. Some foods are more likely to cause specific foodborne illnesses such as:

  • Salmonella can be caused by poultry and eggs
  • Campylobacter can be caused by chicken and unpasteurized milk
  • STEC O157:H7 is caused by ground beef. When a steak that is needle-tenderized, there is the risk of exposing the center of the meat to harmful organisms. If the steak is not thoroughly cooked (which in many cases it is not), the microorganisms can survive and be responsible for causing a foodborne disease.

Water is an important source that can cause a foodborne illness. It can be contaminated with bacteria, viruses, chemicals, and parasites. Water can be contaminated during a natural disaster or when is poor sanitation. It seems like in water can survive many viruses such as caliciviruses, rotaviruses, astrovirus, enteric adenovirus and hepatitis A virus. Be careful if you go on a cruise ship. Many people got sick with gastroenteritis while being aboard. The illness was caused by different noroviruses. The most common pathogens agents involved are Shigella, Salmonella, E. coli, and Vibrio. Other parasitic organisms that can survive in water and contaminate it are Cryptosporidium and Giardia lamblia. People with a weak immune system should be careful when choosing the source of the water they drink.

Foodborne diseases have different periods of incubation:

  • very brief (caused by toxins contained by staphylococcal or bacillus-contaminated food)
  • short (24-48 hours), they have viral causes
  • intermediate (1-5 days), they have bacterial causes
  • long (more than 5 days), they have parasitic sources

What are the most common foodborne diseases?

  • Botulism
  • E. coli
  • Trichinosis
  • Campylobacter
  • Listeria
  • Mad cow
  • Staph
  • Norovirus
  • Ptomaine poisoning
  • Salmonella


Everybody knows that botulism has other causes besides food. But a high percentage of all the reported cases of botulism had a contaminated food source.

Clostridium botulinum is the bacteria responsible for botulism disease. These bacteria live in the soil, with little or no oxygen at all. Many people who canned the food at home got sick with botulism. Some of these people experienced paralytic issues as well.

Symptoms of botulism:

  • droopy eyelids
  • doubled or blurred vision
  • dry mouth
  • slurred speech
  • trouble swallowing
  • muscle weakness

The symptoms occur after 18 to 36 hours after eating the contaminated food. It is interesting that it takes ten days for the first symptoms to manifest.

It is a dangerous illness. When a person doesn’t get medical assistance immediately, it can provoke paralysis of the legs, arms, and respiratory muscles. That person will need an artificial ventilation to be able to breathe properly. Unfortunately, in many cases of untreated botulism, people died.

When the infected person gets medical assistance, botulism can be cured. Doctors use a substance derived from horses that stop the spread of the bacteria. They also help the patient to vomit, this way the patient’s body is getting rid of the contaminated food.

Doctors recommend that you boil the canned foods for 10 minutes before you eat them. This is a way to kill any bacteria. Infants are not allowed to eat honey because of the same reason.

E. coli

Escherichia coli refer to a large group of bacteria. Many of these bacteria are harmless. The ones that are bad are known as Shiga-toxin-producing E. coli, or STEC. The dangerous one is E. coli O157:H7.

These bacteria can be found in the guts of ruminant animals (cattle, goats, sheep, deer, and elk). When these animals are slaughtered, the bacteria can contaminate the meat easily. E. coli gives symptoms in humans such as diarrhea, stomach cramps, vomiting and a low fever.
People who get sick with E. coli need to be hospitalized. It is a dangerous illness for children. Kids can develop hemolytic uremic syndrome. This syndrome can lead to kidney failure.
You can get contaminated with E. coli when you consume ground beef, raw milk, cheese made from unpasteurized milk, and apple cider.
Even vegetables can be contaminated with E. coli if they come in contact with animal feces. Some people got sick as well after they swallowed contaminated water.


Trichinosis is an infection in people who are eating animals infected with the larvae of the worm called Trichinella. They can get contaminated when they eat domesticated pigs.

Contaminated people get nausea, stomachache, fever, diarrhea, fatigue, and vomiting. These symptoms manifest in people after one or two days after they eat contaminated meat. These symptoms continue to manifest until the eight weeks. They include fever and chills, muscle or joint pain, itchy skin, headaches, coughing, eye swelling, constipation or diarrhea. If the case is mild, the symptoms disappear fast. If it is a severe one, the person needs drugs.

USDA recommends cooking the pork at 145 degrees and 160 degrees ground pork meat.


Campylobacter is a disease caused by bacteria with the same name. These bacteria can be found in poultry meat. It exists in birds, but it doesn’t make them sick.

If you don’t want to get sick, cook the chicken properly and do not mix it with raw chicken juices. The bacteria can die if the chicken meat is frozen.

Campylobacter goes away within two to five days. People don’t take medication for this. The only symptom is diarrhea.
When the illness is severe, it can cause the Guillain-Barre syndrome. It can attack the nerves, causing paralysis.

Some outbreaks of Campylobacter are possible when people drink unpasteurized milk or contaminated water.


Listeria monocytogenes is a foodborne disease that can affect pregnant women easily.

Pregnant women are more exposed to listeriosis than other people. People with different health issues such as kidney disease, cancer, and diabetes can get infected more often with listeriosis than healthy adults.

Places that have been fertilized with manure usually are preferred by listeria. It can be found in the soil and water. The bacteria can contaminate animal products including milk, meat, and cheese. Vegetables can be contaminated as well.

Some infections occur when the person eats uncooked meats, raw-milk cheeses, vegetables and cold cuts or soft cheeses that are contaminated. Be careful when you buy meats and other animal products from the deli. The products can be contaminated after they cook them through cross-contamination.[2]

Listeriosis symptoms: nausea fever, muscle aches, and diarrhea are the most common ones. Some people infected with these bacteria complained about headaches, convulsions, and a stiff neck. This is a severe foodborne illness. If not treated in time, the person can die.
Pregnant women infected with listeriosis manifest flu-like symptoms. This illness can provoke a miscarriage or premature delivery. The newborn can get infected as well. A blood test is necessary in this case. The baby and the mother can be treated with antibiotics.

Make sure you cook very well the meats; you avoid consuming raw or unpasteurized milk, cheese or juice. Be careful and always wash the vegetables before eating them. Clean your hands, and the knives and the cutting boards after you worked with raw meat.

“Mad cow” disease

Mad cow is known as a degenerative disease called bovine spongiform encephalopathy. This disease affects the nervous system of the animal. People who consume infected meat can develop Creutzfeldt – Jakob disease. This illness is fatal.

Some parts of the cow are considered to be most infectious for humans: spinal cord, retina, the brain, optic nerve, the muscles, and dorsal root.
The disease occurred among cattle which were fed parts from sick cows. After the first outbreaks, people stopped this practice.
The illness has killed many people in the world.

The illness is caused by an infectious agent called prion. If a person consumes infected meat, there is nothing that it can do after that. Cooking the meat doesn’t help.

Symptoms of Creutzfeldt – Jakob disease includes jerky movements, slurred speech, difficulty walking, dementia, memory loss, seizures, hallucinations and personality changes.

People infected can die in a matter of weeks or months. There are some cases when people lived for years with the disease.


Staphylococcus aureus is contained by foods such as poultry, eggs, meat, dairy products, pasta, salads, potato, éclairs, and cream pies.
Staph can develop in the refrigerator as well. It can infest the food and there isn’t a way to find out about it because it doesn’t have an odor.
People infected with staph feel sick very quickly and will manifest different symptoms such as vomiting, abdominal cramping, and nausea. When the illness is severe, people can also experience muscle cramps, headaches, and changes in blood pressure.

The illness goes away in two or three days. It is important to examine the suspect food, to determine the right diagnostic. You need to know that many healthy people have staph on and in their organism all the time. Staph is transmitted by animals and humans. It can also be found in food, air, in the water, dust, milk, and sewage.

Usually, people do not go to the doctor because the symptoms are mild. The only thing that you have to keep in mind is that you need to hydrate yourself the entire time you manifest those symptoms.

How to avoid getting infected with staph?

  • cook meat to recommended temperatures
  • don’t handle different kinds of meats at the same time, do not let them touch each other
  • don’t let food on the table, outside for more than two hours
  • cold foods must be kept at 40 degrees, and warm foods must be kept over 140 degrees


Norovirus is a foodborne illness which has human causes. Many people died because of this illness.

A person can get sick if the person who prepares the food has this virus and doesn’t wash his or her hands after going to the bathroom. Another way to get this virus is by touching the face or the mouth after you touched some surfaces with norovirus germs. When you have a direct contact with a person who has the virus, you can get sick.
Symptoms occur in 12 hours or 48 hours after exposure. The sick person can manifest these symptoms: diarrhea, abdominal pain, vomiting, stomach and headaches, low fever and tiredness. Many people believe the flu, but it is a Norovirus.

The virus goes away fast, and there is no treatment for it. Make sure you wash your hands and avoid cooking for others while you have it.[3]

“Ptomaine poisoning.”

This term is used by many people when they talk about a food poisoning.

Scientists believed at the beginning that food poisoning is caused by ptomaines, or alkaloids found in dead animals and vegetables after they decompose. The nature of these alkaloids was never clearly defined by specialists. When they discovered bacteria and other microorganisms they gave up the ptomaine theory. The term is still used by people when they talk about a food poisoning case in which doctors did not determine the cause.


Salmonella is a common foodborne disease. Salmonella is bacteria that live in the intestinal tracts of animals. Sometimes feces can come in contact with food that isn’t cooked; these bacteria can make people ill.
Salmonella doesn’t affect the animals. The food contaminated with Salmonella doesn’t look or smell differently than healthy food. Salmonella becomes a problem when it contaminates the foods that aren’t cooked or when meat that’s been contaminated isn’t cooked properly.

Salmonella symptoms:

  • diarrhea
  • abdominal cramps
  • fever

The person infected will have these symptoms within 12 to 72 hours after infection. The illness goes away without medication after four or seven days. The infected people should drink a lot of water because they lose a lot of fluids from their body.

Some people were treated with antibiotics because the bacteria spread to their intestines. People with weak immune systems, like children and very old adults, may have a hard time fighting the infection themselves. These people need more special medical assistance.

In rare cases, people developed Reiter’s syndrome. This is a health condition that affects the person in many ways. The person can have eye irritation, painful joints, and painful urination. These symptoms do not go away for months or years. Some people also developed chronic arthritis.

Make sure you prevent salmonella infection by always cooking the meat and the eggs to the recommended temperatures. Be extra cautious when handling other foods, not to contaminate them with raw juices from the poultry, meat, eggs that have Salmonella.