Food Recall Resource

Food Poisoning Symptoms: Know the Signs and When to See a Doctor

There are more than 250 foodborne diseases caused by a variety of bacteria, viruses, and parasites.  Food poisoning symptoms can be severe.  Some foodborne illnesses can even be fatal.  Many of the most common causes of food poisoning share symptoms and some even have symptoms in common with more rare, possibly deadly illnesses.  Being aware of food poisoning signs and symptoms could prevent long-term or even deadly consequences.

The Risks of Food Poisoning by the Numbers

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that 48 million Americans get sick from foodborne illnesses each year.  Of those, 128,000 will be hospitalized.  An additional 3,000 people die each year from food poisoning.

Anyone can experience food poisoning symptoms, but foodborne illness is most likely to affect:

  • Children
  • Older Adults
  • Pregnant women
  • Adults with weakened immune systems like those with liver disease, diabetes, kidney disease, HIV/AIDS, organ transplants, or cancer patients receiving radiation or chemotherapy treatments

Most people who develop food poisoning symptoms will heal and move on without requiring medical intervention.  However, it’s important to know the severe symptoms that may require a doctor’s attention.

Common Food Poisoning Symptoms

Not all food poisoning symptoms are serious, and most cases will resolve on their own.  The best at-home remedy is to drink a lot of fluids to prevent dehydration.  Of course, different causes of foodborne illnesses will cause more unique symptoms, but the most common food poisoning symptoms are:

  • Nausea
  • Upset stomach
  • Stomach cramps
  • Diarrhea
  • Vomiting
  • Fever

Food poisoning symptoms may not occur for hours or days after contact with contaminated food or drink.

Severe Food Poisoning Symptoms

Depending on the germ, harmful toxin, chemical, or other contaminate consumed, food poisoning symptoms can range from mild to severe.  Severe food poisoning symptoms that require medical attention include:

  • Bloody stools
  • A fever greater than 102 degrees
  • Vomiting so frequently that you can’t even keep fluids down
  • Dehydration with a noticeable decrease in urination, dry mouth, throat, and eyes, feeling dizzy when rising from a seated position
  • Diarrhea that lasts longer than three days

These severe food poisoning symptoms can cause serious pain and discomfort, and should be treated by a doctor.  Without proper treatment, these symptoms can escalate and cause further illness.

Top 5 Common Foodborne Germs and Their Symptoms

Usually mild, these five are the most common causes of food poisoning symptoms:


  • Symptoms usually appear 12-48 hours after exposure.
  • Common sources are leafy greens, fresh fruits, shellfish, contaminated water, or an infected person.
  • Symptoms include diarrhea, vomiting, and nausea or stomach pain.


  • Symptoms usually appear 12-72 hours after exposure.
  • Common sources are eggs, raw meat, undercooked meat or poultry, unpasteurized milk, cheese, or juice, and raw fruits and vegetables.
  • Symptoms include diarrhea, fever, abdominal cramps, and vomiting.

Clostridium perfringens

  • Symptoms usually appear 6-24 hours after exposure.
  • Common sources are beef, especially large roasts, poultry, gravy, dried foods, and precooked foods.
  • Symptoms include sudden diarrhea and abdominal cramps that begin suddenly and last for less than 24 hours.  Sometimes victims experience vomiting and fever.


  • Symptoms appear 2-5 days after exposure.
  • Common sources are raw or undercooked poultry, unpasteurized milk, and contaminated water.
  • Symptoms include bloody diarrhea, abdominal pain and cramping, fever.

Staphylococcus aureus (Staph)

  • Symptoms will appear quickly, usually from 30 minutes to 6 hours after exposure.
  • Common sources are prepared foods that are not cooked after handling like sandwiches, deli meats, sliced meats, pastries, and puddings.
  • Symptoms include nausea, vomiting, stomach cramps, mostly often accompanied by diarrhea.

Top 4 Foodborne Illnesses that Cause Hospitalization

The foodborne illnesses that often cause hospitalization don’t cause as many individual illnesses as the ones above, but they are more likely to have a serious impact on your health.

Clostridium botulinum (botulism)

  • Symptoms appear within 18-36 hours of exposure.
  • Common sources are improperly canned or fermented foods (usually homemade).
  • Symptoms start in the head and move down as the severity increases.  Symptoms may include blurred or double vision, drooping eyelids, slurred speech, dry mouth, difficulty swallowing and breathing, muscle weakness, paralysis.


  • Symptoms appear within 1-4 weeks of exposure.
  • Common sources are soft cheeses like queso fresco, raw sprouts, melons, hot dogs, deli meats, smoked seafood, and unpasteurized milk.
  • Symptoms for pregnant women include flu-like symptoms like muscle aches and fatigue with fever.  Infections during pregnancy can result in serious injury to the mother, loss of the pregnancy, or death of the newborn.
  • Symptoms in others include muscle aches and fever as well as headache, stiff neck, confusion, convulsions, and loss of balance.

E. coli

  • Symptoms appear within 3-4 days of exposure.
  • Common causes are raw or undercooked ground beef, unpasteurized milk, raw vegetables, raw sprouts, and contaminated water.
  • Symptoms include bloody diarrhea, severe stomach cramps, and vomiting.
  • Up to 10% of victims will develop a life-threatening complication.


  • Symptoms appear within 1-4 days of exposure.
  • The cause is usually raw or undercooked shellfish, often oysters.
  • Symptoms include watery diarrhea, nausea, stomach cramps, vomiting, chills, and fever

Parasitic Foodborne Illnesses

Even less common, these illnesses cause food poisoning symptoms because of a parasitic organism, rather than bacteria or virus.


  • Leading cause of death from foodborne illness in the US.
  • Common causes are undercooked meat or shellfish and unpasteurized goat’s milk.
  • Usually presents no symptoms because a healthy person’s immune system usually prevents the parasite from causing illness.
  • Symptoms may include swollen lymph glands and muscle pains that last a month or more.
  • This parasite is of particular concern to pregnant women because it can possibly infect her unborn child who may be born without symptoms, only to develop them later.


  • Symptoms appear in about a week.
  • Common causes are raw fruits, vegetables, or herbs.
  • Symptoms include watery diarrhea, loss of appetite and weight loss, stomach cramps, bloating, nausea, and fatigue.


  • May be caused by undercooked meat containing Toxocara larvae.
  • Most commonly presents no initial symptoms.
  • When symptoms are present they usually include vision loss or eye inflammation in one eye only.
  • 70 people in the U.S.  go blind each year because of this parasite.  Most of the victims are children.

Long-term Effects of Food Poisoning

When food poisoning symptoms are severe, some victims may need to be hospitalized, may experience long-term health issues, or even die.  Some severe food poisoning symptoms can cause long-term effects including:

  • Kidney failure
  • Nerve damage
  • Brain Damage
  • Chronic Arthritis

Prevent Food Poisoning with Food Safety

The CDC recommends a 4-step approach to prevent foodborne illnesses: clean, separate, cook and chill.

food poisoning symptoms

  • Clean – frequent hand washing is key.  Also, wash produce correctly under running water.  Promptly clean any utensils or surfaces before and after they touch food.
  • Separate – Keep raw meat, shellfish, and eggs away from other foods both while storing them and while preparing them.
  • Cook – Thoroughly cook all meat to the appropriate temperature.
  • Chill – Bacteria that can cause food poisoning symptoms can multiply rapidly between 40F and 140F.  Keep your refrigerator below 40 F.

Following these steps can help reduce the likelihood of becoming sick with a foodborne illness.  Unfortunately, even the most conscientious consumers can still fall victim to contaminants.

Report Food Poisoning

If you think you or someone you love has become sick because of a foodborne illness, report it to your local health department.  Health departments work in concert with the CDC to track and manage national outbreaks and prevent a potential crisis.  Report every brush with food poisoning, even if you are not sure which food caused your illness.

If food poisoning symptoms caused you to seek medical attention, contact an attorney to discuss your experience.  Many cases of food poisoning are the result of contaminated food sold on store shelves, or served in restaurants.

Food producers, grocery stores, and restaurants have a duty to provide food that won’t make people sick, and if their negligence has saddled you with bills for a hospital stay, you may be able to hold them financially accountable.

Contact Bad Food Recall to learn more about your rights as a consumer.  Submit our online form or call 1-877-534-5750.



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