Skip to content

I'm a Doctor and Here's the #1 Sign You Have Food Poisoning

Everything to know about food poisoning and how to tell if you have it.

Anyone who's had food poisoning knows that sick to your stomach nauseous feeling that seems like it's never ending. While it usually passes in a few days, food poisoning can make you violently ill and cause some serious misery before it's over. 48 million people get food poisoning a year—that's 1 in 6 people, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and 3,000 people die each year from foodborne diseases.  The symptoms can be similar to a stomach bug or flu, but Eat This, Not That! Health spoke with Dr. Matthew Roberson, a board-certified family medicine physician with Paloma Health who revealed everything to know about food poisoning and how to tell if you have it. Read on to find out more—and to ensure your health and the health of others, don't miss these Sure Signs COVID is Hurting You—Even After a Negative Test.


What is Food Poisoning?

Escherichia Coli (E. Coli.) cells or bacteria under microscope

Dr. Roberson explains, "Food poisoning is when you get sick from food or drinks contaminated by harmful bacteria, a virus, or parasites. Most commonly, it is caused by bacteria, such as E. coli and clostridium perfringens. When these foreign invaders enter our digestive tract, they release toxins that act like poison. Our body detects this within minutes to hours and responds by doing what it can to rid the digestive tract of these toxins."

RELATED: The Health Secrets of the Healthiest People on the Planet


How Food Poisoning Happens

Cutting steak

According to Dr. Roberson, "Food poisoning most commonly occurs because of food that is ill-prepared. Food can become contaminated really at any point in the preparation process. We often hear of food poisoning related to animal products like chicken. When undercooked, animal meat and eggs can carry harmful bacteria, making the eater quite ill for a short period of time. You can also get food poisoning from other products, including food that has passed its expiration date and fresh fruits and vegetables that are unwashed."

RELATED: This Common Habit Makes Your Alzheimer's Risk Soar


How Long it Takes for Signs of Food Poisoning to Appear

Woman Suffering From Nausea

"Most cases of food poisoning show up pretty quickly," says Dr. Roberson. "Some people feel unwell almost immediately after eating, whereas others may develop symptoms within an hour or two. Depending on the type of bacteria, virus, or parasite, it may show up within a few days. Usually, symptoms show up pretty quickly because of the rate food moves through the gut. If you contract a virus such as hepatitis A, symptoms may not appear for a month or more." 

RELATED: Most People Get Diabetes Like This, Doctors Say


Symptoms of Food Poisoning

Door handle open to toilet can see toilet

Dr. Roberson states, "Anyone who has had food poisoning will recall all too well the symptoms that accompany this short-term illness. Nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, abdominal cramping, bloating, and fever are all commonplace in food poisoning. Sometimes, people may develop bloody diarrhea. Again, the body does everything it can to rid itself of the foreign invader, so elimination and fighting back with fever are some of our best defense mechanisms when it comes to food-related illnesses."

RELATED: The #1 Best Medicines to Take After COVID Infection


Treating Food Poisoning

woman drinking water

Dr. Roberson says, "The treatment for food poisoning really depends on the cause and the severity. Most cases of food poisoning go away on their own with plenty of supportive care like hydration and nutrient replacement. Indeed, the body generally wipes out common bacterial infections and can recover within a few days. In more severe cases of food poisoning, people may suffer from dehydration and may need to be under the care of a health provider. Some people may take antibiotics at the onset of symptoms, especially if they know they were infected or it is likely, such as with travel. If you do not have bloody diarrhea, you can take some anti-diarrheal medications like Immodium, but remember diarrhea is your body's way of getting rid of the invader. So, unless diarrhea is making you severely ill or dehydrated, it can be best to let it run its course for a few days."

RELATED: Over 60? Here's How to Live Decades Longer


How to Help Prevent Food Poisoning

washing produce

"The best way to prevent food poisoning is to eat well-washed, well-cooked food that has been safely prepared," says Dr. Roberson. "Cooking meat to an optimal temperature and checking it with a meat thermometer is essential for eliminating many food-borne illnesses. Also, keeping your prep area clean and washing plates and utensils regularly can help reduce your risk of getting an infection. Aside from how you prepare your food, you can also take probiotics or eat foods rich in probiotics, like yogurt, to keep the numbers of good bacteria higher in your gut."

RELATED: The Best Ways to Shrink Visceral Fat, Says Science


Complications and Risk Factors of Food Poisoning

Young man suffering from strong headache or migraine sitting with glass of water in the kitchen, millennial guy feeling intoxication and pain touching aching head

According to Dr. Roberson, "The biggest complication of food poisoning is dehydration and systemic illness. Because your body loses a lot of fluid in the process of eliminating infections, it is common to have some degree of dehydration. However, people who become severely dehydrated need medical intervention to help replace fluids and electrolytes. Sometimes, toxins from foreign invaders can leak out of the digestive tract and enter the bloodstream. In these cases, people can become severely ill and may require medical care. Pregnant women need to be especially careful to prevent food poisoning, especially from a bacteria called Listeria, as it can infect the baby and cause miscarriage or stillbirth. Some cases of E. coli may also lead to kidney failure." And to live your healthiest life, don't miss this life-saving advice I'm a Doctor and Here's the #1 Sign You Have Cancer.

Heather Newgen
Heather Newgen has two decades of experience reporting and writing about health, fitness, entertainment and travel. Heather currently freelances for several publications. Read more about Heather
Filed Under