How long does food poisoning last?

Food poisoning causesFood poisoning (food poisoning) is an inflammation of the mucous membrane of the stomach and small intestine caused by the consumption of contaminated, poisonous or bacterially contaminated foodstuffs. Various causes can cause food poisoning, but most cases are attributed to bacteria.

The term “food poisoning” refers to three forms of foodborne diseases:

  • Food intoxication: Food ingestion is caused by the consumption of food contaminated with microorganisms produced toxins. The causative microorganisms include staphylococci, clostridia and mold fungi. The first symptoms occur a few hours after the food has been consumed.
  • Food infection: In the case of a food infection, live pathogens in food or drinking water, such as salmonella cause discomfort. These often occur only a few minutes after eating the contaminated food or drink.
  • Toxic infection: In a toxic infection, food is also used as a transport medium for the pathogen. This multiplies in the human body and forms only here its specific toxins, which then trigger the symptoms. An example of pathogens of a toxic infection is about a certain type of salmonella.

In principle, any foodstuff can be toxicly contaminated if it has been grown, collected, transported and / or processed under insufficient hygienic standards. There is a particular risk for protein-rich foods such as meat, fish, eggs and dairy products, as these provide microorganisms with a good basis for propagation.

In general, in the case of a food poisoning, the duration and therapy depend on the causative cause. In most cases, food poisoning will disappear by itself within a few days.

Symptoms of food poisoning depend on source of contamination. Most types of food poisoning cause following signs and symptoms:

  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Watery diarrhea
  • Abdominal pain and cramps
  • Fever

Signs and symptoms may begin within a few hours after eating the contaminated food, or may begin days or even weeks later. Diseases caused by a food poisoning usually last from 1 to 10 days.

Food poisoning incubation period

Depending on the pathogen, the time between the consumption of the food and the appearance of the first symptoms (incubation time) is differently long. In the case of mushroom and planting pits, first symptoms can be seen immediately after or even during consumption.

For most bacterial causes of food poisoning (for example, salmonellosis) the incubation period is between 12 and 36 hours.

A particularly long incubation period occurs in the case of food poisoning caused by Campylobacter: First symptoms appear only after two to seven days.

The incubation time also depends on how much of the contaminated or poisonous food was consumed and how much the food was contaminated.

A food poisoning by the bacterium Clostridium botulinum provokes the life-threatening disease picture of botulism. Each year, only about ten to 30 people are affected all over the World.

In principle, all groups of people can equally be affected by food poisoning. However, depending on the lifestyle and eating habits, each individual has a different individual risk.


Food poisoning causes and risk factors

The cause of a food poisoning are toxins, which are received via the food and enter the digestive system (gastrointestinal tract). Above all, protein-rich foods such as milk, meat, fish and eggs are a great source of danger.

Food poisoning by bacterial toxins

In most cases, the toxins that cause food poisoning originate from bacteria: the so-called enterotoxins develop their damaging effects in the gastrointestinal tract. Particularly frequent producers of such toxins are the following bacteria:

Salmonella: Over 2,000 different types of salmonella are known, which can trigger food poisoning. Salmonella is usually ingested via raw or non-heated animal foods. Above all the consumption of raw eggs represents a high danger potential.

Campylobacter: The bacterium Campylobacter is found mainly in insufficiently heated poultry meat and products from raw eggs. It can be killed by cooking food.

Shigella: Shigella occur in warm areas with inadequate hygiene standards, where faecal or sewage is contaminating food or drinking water. Food poisoning caused by shigella must be treated by a doctor.

Yersinia: The transmission of the bacterium Yersinia usually occurs through contact with infected animals or the consumption of contaminated animal food. The duration of the disease is between one and two weeks.

Escherichia coli: The bacterium Escherichia coli is mainly found in raw beef and raw milk. A transfer from person to person is also possible. Small epidemics of food poisoning by E. coli occur, for example, in kindergartens.

Staphylococci: Staphylococci, for example, can get into food from the palm of the hand. They can not be killed by heating the food.

Listeria: Listeria can be found, among other things, in animal foods such as raw milk, soft cheese or raw meat, and can also grow in vacuum packs. Pregnancy is a particularly dangerous time for a listeria infection (listeriosis): the pathogen can be transferred from the mother to the unborn and cause a birth defect or stillborn.

Clostridium botulinum: This bacterium is killed only at temperatures above 100 degrees Celsius. An indication of contamination of food with Clostridium botulinum are bloated packaging. Also self-contained fruits and vegetables is a potential danger. Clostridium botulinum triggers a severe form of food poisoning. This so-called botulism can damage the nervous tissue and must always be treated by a doctor.

Food poisoning causes

Other causes of food poisoning

Further possible triggers for food poisoning are:

  • Metals such as copper, zinc, cadmium, arsenic or lead
  • Poisonous fungi such as fly fungus or tubers
  • Mold fungi (aflatoxin, ergot on rye and grasses)
  • Herbal poisons such as the poison of the dandelion or scopolamine
  • Poisonous fish, shellfish or berries

Risk factors for food poisoning

Food poisoning often occurs as local epidemics. Causes can be, for example, contaminated canteen food or contaminated fast food. There is an accumulation of food poisoning in the summer months, as pathogens multiply faster at warm temperatures.

In some countries, the risk of food poisoning is higher than in others. On the one hand, this is due to different hygienic standards for the cultivation, preparation and sale of food.

On the other hand, the climate plays a role: in tropical and subtropical regions there are temperatures where bacteria can reproduce very well. For example, holidaymakers in the Mediterranean region should ensure adequate hygienic standards in order to avoid food poisoning.

Viruses in food

Also, viruses can enter the body via food and cause gastrointestinal discomfort. However, doctors do not speak of a food poisoning, but of a viral infection, the cause of which is contaminated food.

The symptoms are often the same. Among the viruses that can be found in life centers are:

  • Norovirus
  • Rotavirus
  • Hepatitis A virus
  • Hepatitis E virus

Food may contain viruses if they come into contact with infected faeces or contaminated water, or if infected persons disregard hygienic rules when preparing or selling food.

Viruses can not multiply in food and do not lead to their spoilage. They can remain infectious for a long period of time. Food is not visible from the outside whether they are contaminated by viruses.

No contamination can be detected on taste or smell. Particularly dangerous are ready-to-eat cold dishes such as salad, fruit, desserts and baked goods.

Viral-induced gastrointestinal discomfort often occurs in community facilities such as kindergartens, schools, old people’s homes and hospitals.

Food poisoning diagnosis

In most cases, the diagnosis of food poisoning is based on the history of the patient (anamnesis) and the symptoms. The classic symptoms and the report of the affected person about the consumption of unusual or strange tasting food or drinks give the doctor first indications.

If a particular food is suspected to have triggered food poisoning, samples of it may be passed on to a laboratory to prove any pathogens in it. The botulinum can also be proved in stool or vomit samples.

However, since the result is only about 24 hours long, but botulism is very dangerous. Therapy is already begun even if suspected of such a disease.

If the food poisoning is caused by fungus toxins, it is important for the treatment to determine the exact poison. In this case, the doctor usually helps the affected person’s report on consumed foods.

How to prevent food poisoning?

In order to avoid food poisoning, food hygiene and a sufficient treatment of the drinking water are necessary. Tourists in southern countries should refrain, if possible, from dishes that have been cooked with non-boiled water or have not been heated or served in the restaurant.

If you are in doubt about the purity of the tap water in holidaymakers, use only boiled water or bottled drinking water for drinking and brushing your teeth.

Even at home, you can do a lot to reduce the risk of food poisoning:

  • Wash fruits and vegetables thoroughly before eating or preparing
  • Wash hands, dishes and kitchen utensils before, between and after cooking
  • Rinse and clean the cloths used in the kitchen
  • Wear clean clothes and do not wear jewelery
  • Fish and meat dishes well
  • No raw milk products or raw fish and raw meat
  • Store in tightly closed containers
  • Observe the expiry date of food
  • Avoid pets, rodents and insects in the kitchen area
  • Dispose of foodstuffs when pets, insects or insects (such as rats, mice) had contact with them
  • Foods that taste odd or unusual, do not continue to consume

In order to avoid food poisoning by refrigerated food, you should pay attention to the short circuit of the cold chain. Bring frozen products quickly to your home after shopping and use a cooler at high outside temperatures.

Frozen food should be thawed in the fridge overnight. This is particularly important for fish, as bacteria can multiply well in the thawing water and cause food poisoning. The fish is washed before the preparation.

When preparing food such as tiramisu, mayonnaise or desserts made with raw eggs, be sure to use only fresh eggs.

When to see a doctor for food poisoning?

If you experience any of the following signs or symptoms, seek medical attention.

  • Frequent episodes of vomiting that interfere with your ability to retain fluids
  • Vomiting with blood
  • Severe diarrhea for more than three days
  • Blood in bowel movements
  • Extreme pain or severe abdominal cramps
  • Oral temperature of more than 38.6 ° C
  • Difficulty speaking
  • Difficulty to swallow
  • Double vision
  • Muscle weakness that progresses downward
  • Signs or symptoms of dehydration – excessive thirst, dry mouth

If food poisoning is suspected, contact your local health department. Your report can help the health department identify a possible outbreak and can help prevent others from getting sick. You may have to describe what you ate, where you got the food you think is the cause, when you got sick and your symptoms.

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