Food Poisoning (Adult)

Food poisoning is illness that is passed along in food. It usually occurs from 1 to 24 hours after eating food that has spoiled. Food poisoning can occur when you eat food or drink that contains viruses, bacteria, parasites, or toxins. This includes food that has not been cooked or refrigerated properly.

Food poisoning can cause these symptoms:

  • Abdominal pain and cramping

  • Nausea

  • Vomiting

  • Diarrhea

  • Fever and chills

  • Fatigue

The symptoms usually last from 1 to 2 days.

Antibiotics are not effective for this illness, except for certain cases of bacterial food poisoning.

Home care

Follow all instructions given by your healthcare provider. Rest at home for the next 24 hours, or until you feel better. Avoid caffeine, tobacco, and alcohol. These can make diarrhea, cramping, and pain worse.

If taking medicines:

  • Over-the-counter diarrhea and nausea medicines are generally OK unless you have bleeding, fever, or severe abdominal pain.

  • You may be given medicine for nausea or vomiting to help keep down fluids. Take these medicines as prescribed.

  • You may use acetaminophen or NSAID medicine like ibuprofen or naproxen to reduce pain and fever. Don’t use these if you have chronic liver or kidney disease, or ever had a stomach ulcer or gastrointestinal bleeding. Talk with your healthcare provider first. Don't use NSAID medicines if you are already taking one for another condition (like arthritis) or are on aspirin (such as for heart disease or after a stroke).

To prevent the spread of illness:

  • Remember that washing with soap and water or using alcohol-based sanitizer is the best way to prevent the spread of infection. Dry your hands with a single use towel.

  • Clean the toilet after each use.

  • Wash your hands before eating.

  • Wash your hands or use alcohol-based sanitizer before and after preparing food. Keep in mind that people with diarrhea or vomiting should not prepare food for others.

  • Wash your hands after using cutting boards, counter-tops, and knives or other utensils that have been in contact with raw foods.

  • Wash and then peel fruits and vegetables.

  • Keep uncooked meats away from cooked and ready-to-eat foods.

  • Use a food thermometer when cooking. Cook poultry to at least 165°F (74°C). Cook ground meat (beef, veal, pork, lamb) to at least 160°F (71°C). Cook fresh beef, veal, lamb, and pork to at least 145°F (63°C).

  • Don’t eat raw or undercooked eggs (poached or sunny side up), poultry, meat or unpasteurized milk and juices.

  • Don't eat foods requiring refrigeration. Don't eat foods that have not been refrigerated for long periods such as at buffets or picnics.

  • Don't eat seafood that is undercooked or with high rates of food toxins.

Food and drinks

The main goal while treating vomiting or diarrhea is to prevent dehydration. This is done by taking small amounts of liquids often.

  • Keep in mind that liquids are more important than food right now.

  • Drink only small amounts of liquids at a time.

  • Don’t force yourself to eat, especially if you are having cramping, vomiting, or diarrhea. Don’t eat large amounts at a time, even if you are hungry.

  • If you eat, avoid fatty, greasy, spicy, or fried foods.

  • Don’t eat dairy foods or drink milk if you have diarrhea. These can make diarrhea worse.

The first 24 hours you can try:

  • Soft drinks without caffeine

  • Ginger ale

  • Water (plain or flavored)

  • Decaf tea or coffee

  • Clear broth, consommé, or bouillon

  • Gelatin, ice pops, or frozen fruit juice bars

  • Oral rehydration solutions, which are available over-the-counter. Sports drinks are not the best choice as they have too much sugar and not enough electrolytes. However, they may be used if you are not too dehydrated and are otherwise healthy.

The second 24 hours, if you are feeling better, you can add:

  • Hot cereal, plain toast, bread, rolls, or crackers

  • Plain noodles, rice, mashed potatoes, chicken noodle soup, or rice soup

  • Unsweetened canned fruit (no pineapple)

  • Bananas

As you recover:

  • Limit fat intake to less than 15 grams per day. Don’t eat margarine, butter, oils, mayonnaise, sauces, gravies, fried foods, peanut butter, meat, poultry, or fish.

  • Limit fiber. Don’t eat raw or cooked vegetables, fresh fruits except bananas, and bran cereals.

  • Limit caffeine and chocolate.

  • Don’t use spices or seasonings except salt.

  • Resume a normal diet over time, as you feel better and your symptoms improve.

  • If the symptoms come back, go back to a simple diet or clear liquids.

Follow-up care

Follow up with your healthcare provider, or as advised. If a stool sample was taken or cultures were done, call the healthcare provider for the results as instructed.

Call 911

Call 911 if you have any of these symptoms:

  • Trouble breathing

  • Chest pain

  • Confusion

  • Extreme drowsiness or trouble walking

  • Loss of consciousness

  • Rapid heart rate

  • Stiff neck

  • Seizure

When to seek medical advice

Call your healthcare provider right away if any of these occur:

  • Abdominal pain that gets worse

  • Constant lower right abdominal pain

  • Continued vomiting and inability to keep liquids down

  • Diarrhea more than 5 times a day

  • Blood in vomit or stool

  • Dark urine or no urine for 8 hours, dry mouth and tongue, tiredness, weakness, or dizziness

  • New rash

  • You don’t get better in 2 to 3 days

  • Fever of 100.4°F (38°C) or higher, or as directed by your healthcare provider

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© 2000-2020 The StayWell Company, LLC. All rights reserved. This information is not intended as a substitute for professional medical care. Always follow your healthcare professional's instructions.