Food Poisoning

WHAT IS FOOD POISONING?food poisoning with male   having upset stomach and needs gastroenterologist

Food poisoning, typically caused by viruses, bacteria, or parasites, is spread through foods or drinks. Symptoms are often intense but do not last long, and in most cases, treatment is not needed. In some instances, though, it can have serious complications. 



Food poisoning, typically caused by viruses, bacteria, or parasites, is spread through foods or drinks. Symptoms are often intense but do not last long, and in most cases, treatment is not needed. In some instances, though, food poisoning can have serious complications. 

Some foods purchased from the grocery store may already be contaminated, with these foods posing the highest risk:

  • Fresh fruits and vegetables
  • Raw or undercooked meat, poultry, and eggs
  • Unpasteurized dairy products 
  • Seafood
  • Deli foods (sliced meat, salads, baked goods, etc.)
  • Processed meats (hot dogs, deli meat, etc.)
  • Improperly sealed canned foods


When safety protocols involving storage, cleaning, and preparation of these foods are not followed, food poisoning is a serious concern:

  • Chicken, turkey, beef, pork
  • Fruits and vegetables
  • Raw milk (and dairy products made with it)
  • Raw eggs
  • Seafood and raw shellfish
  • Sprouts
  • Raw flour


If you are experiencing these unpleasant symptoms, food poisoning may be to blame:

  • Diarrhea or bloody stools
  • Vomiting
  • Abdominal pain
  • Fever
  • Headache

Symptoms may range from mild to severe, lasting just a few hours or up to several days. If symptoms persist, contact your Charleston GI specialist.

While uncommon, certain types of food poisoning, like botulism, may impact your nervous system. If you are experiencing these symptoms, seek medical attention immediately:

  • Blurred vision
  • Weakness
  • Headache
  • Paralysis 
  • Tingling or skin numbness 


Most symptoms last a short time and subside without any medical treatment. But if symptoms like these persist, call your gastroenterologist as soon as possible:

  • Bloody diarrhea
  • Diarrhea that lasts more than 3 days
  • High fever (over 102°F)
  • Vomiting so frequently that you are unable to keep liquids down
  • Signs of dehydration (infrequent urination, dry mouth, dizziness upon standing)

Note for expectant mothers: See your doctor if you have a fever and other flu-like symptoms. Some mild infections can cause problems with pregnancy.


Your GI specialist will likely diagnose you based on symptoms, with no tests required. To rule out other conditions or to check for complications, your gastroenterologist may perform a physical exam, stool test, or blood test.


For most patients, the only treatment required involves replacing lost fluids. Over-the-counter medication may also be taken to ease symptoms. If food poisoning is caused by bacteria or parasites, your GI doctor may prescribe an antibiotic as well. Recent research has shown that probiotics, similar to the ones living in a healthy digestive tract, may also be helpful, especially for patients with diarrhea.


The proper storage, cooking, cleaning, and handling of foods can help prevent food poisoning. Here are some tips to keep in mind:

  • Keep raw meat and eggs separate from other foods
  • Refrigerate or freeze foods that can spoil right away
  • Wash your hands with soap and water before and after handling food
  • Wash produce before cooking or eating
  • Cook foods long enough at high enough temperatures 
  • Thoroughly wash utensils and surfaces after use
  • Never consume foods that can spoil that have been sitting out for more than 2 hours



Is food poisoning common?

About 48 million Americans get food poisoning each year, resulting in about 3,000 fatalities.

Who is most likely to get food poisoning?

These people face the highest risk of getting food poisoning:

  • Infants and children
  • Pregnant women 
  • Older people
  • Those with weak immune systems

Are there any long-term effects?

Some very severe cases of foodborne illness may lead to other health conditions, including:

  • Arthritis
  • Brain and nerve damage
  • Hemolytic uremic syndrome
  • Kidney damage
  • Meningitis

What types of microbes cause food poisoning?


Bacteria are microscopic organisms that enter the body through contaminated food or water, causing infection or disease. Salmonella and Escherichia coli (E. coli) are common types of bacteria that cause food poisoning. Because bacteria grow rapidly when food temperatures are between 40 and 140 degrees, keeping food properly refrigerated or cooking it properly can help prevent food from good bad.


Parasites live inside other organisms and enter your body through food or water. Parasitic infections are rare in developed countries.

Travelers’ diarrhea

People visiting developing countries may develop travelers’ diarrhea.


Viruses invade normal cells, causing infections that spread from one person to the next. Common viruses that cause poisoning of food include norovirus and hepatitis A. Contaminated water can spread viruses to food, which may cause poisoning of food  upon consumption. Viruses can also spread when an infected person prepares food. 

Which foods are more likely to contain harmful chemicals that cause food poisoning?

Harmful chemicals can also cause food poisoning and may be present in certain foods, like these:

  • Fish and shellfish that contain toxins produced by algae or bacteria
  • Specific varieties of wild mushrooms
  • Unwashed produce with high levels of chemical pesticides 

How does food become contaminated?

Contamination can occur at any point from farm to table, with these poor practices putting people at risk:

  • Poor handwashing
  • Failure to disinfect cooking or dining areas
  • Improper food storage

Are there any other uncommon ways to get it?

Bacteria that can potentially cause food poisoning may be found in swimming pools, lakes, and other bodies of water. Plus, some bacteria, like E. coli, may be spread by exposure to infected animals.

Are food poisoning and foodborne illness the same thing?

Food poisoning is a type of foodborne illness, referring specifically to illnesses caused by a toxin in food. Foodborne illness is a broader term that incorporates all illnesses that result from any contaminated food.


To learn more about treatment for GI tract issues in Charleston, SC, get in touch today! Charleston Gastroenterology is committed to a higher standard of caring – and we provide a range of medical treatments to help you feel your best.

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