What causes food poisoning?

Many types of food poisoning are spread through food or beverages that have been contaminated with human or animal feces that contain infectious bacteria, viruses or parasites. Any food can become contaminated with infectious microorganisms that cause food poisoning if it is handled by an infected person with unwashed hands or if it comes in contact with contaminated soil or water.

Contaminated foods

Foods that can be contaminated with infectious microorganisms include:

  • Home-canned food

  • Honey

  • Ice cubes made from contaminated water
  • Raw vegetables and fruits

  • Undercooked eggs, chicken and poultry

  • Undercooked or raw food that comes from animals, such as seafood, meat and dairy products

  • Unpasteurized apple cider and dairy products such as milk

  • Water and other beverages

Other sources of food poisoning and ingestion of toxins

Other sources of microorganisms that can cause food poisoning or related diseases include:

  • Animals that are infected with Campylobacter jejuni bacteria or other infectious microorganisms

  • Feces of a person with food poisoning

  • Food contaminated with the feces of pets or reptiles with salmonellosis

  • Soil contaminated with infectious microorganisms

  • Toxic or poisonous mushrooms

What are the risk factors for food poisoning?

Food poisoning can occur in any age group or population, but a number of factors increase the risk of developing the disease. Not all people with risk factors will get food poisoning. Risk factors for food poisoning and related diseases include:

  • Advanced age

  • Consumption of expired food

  • Consumption of leftovers that have been stored for more than two to three days

  • Consumption of raw or undercooked eggs or meats

  • Contact with a person or animal who has an infection with microorganisms that cause food poisoning

  • Exposure to pet feces, handling reptiles, or touching raw foods or foods contaminated with microorganisms that cause food poisoning

  • Pregnancy

  • Swimming in pools, lakes, reservoirs, and other bodies of water that are contaminated with infectious microorganisms that cause food poisoning

  • Travel to developing countries with untreated water or unpasteurized foods

  • Weakened immune system due to such conditions as HIV/AIDS, diabetes, kidney disease, cancer or cancer treatment, and steroid treatment

  • Young age (elementary school age and younger)

Reducing your risk of food poisoning and related diseases

You can lower your risk of developing or transmitting food poisoning and related diseases by:

  • Avoiding contact with a person who has food poisoning or its symptoms, such as vomiting and diarrhea

  • Cleaning wounds promptly and keeping them covered with a sterile bandage

  • Defrosting foods in the refrigerator or microwave, not on the counter

  • Drinking bottled water and eating pasteurized dairy products when traveling to areas with poor sewage treatment facilities and unpasteurized foods

  • Following swimming restrictions and beach closures of bodies of water that may be contaminated

  • Not keeping reptiles as pets in homes with infants and young children

  • Not picking and eating wild or unknown mushrooms or giving honey to infants

  • Not using ice cubes in beverages
  • Refrigerating or freezing leftovers right away and eating them within two to three days of refrigerating. Leftovers from restaurants should be eaten within 24 hours.

  • Throwing out expired food, leftovers, or perishable food that has been sitting at room temperature for two hours or longer

  • Washing plates, utensils, and cutting boards that have been exposed to raw meats or poultry in hot, soapy water before reusing

  • Washing your hands frequently during and after contact with a person who has food poisoning, gastroenteritis, or symptoms such as vomiting and diarrhea

  • Washing your hands frequently, especially after using the bathroom, touching pet feces, handling reptiles and other animals, changing diapers, or touching raw foods


What is food poisoning?

Food poisoning is a general term for a wide variety of diseases that are caused by ingesting food or beverages that contain toxins or are contaminated with harmful microorganisms, such as bacteria, viruses or parasites. Food poisoning is also known as food-borne illness. Every year 48 million Americans suffer from food-borne illnesses.

Food poisoning typically causes irritatio... Read more about food poisoningintroduction


What are the symptoms of food poisoning?

Symptoms of food poisoning vary depending on the specific type of food poisoning, the amount of infectious microorganisms or toxins ingested, your age, medical history, and other factors.

Classic symptoms of food poisoning affect the stomach and intestines and include abdominal cramps, diarrhea, and vomiting.... Read more about food poisoningsymptoms


How is food poisoning treated?

Healthy adults may recover from mild to moderate cases of some types of food poisoning with rest, avoiding solid food until symptoms subside, and ensuring adequate hydration to prevent dehydration. However, seek medical care if you have symptoms of food poisoning, such as fever, vomiting, diarrhea and abdominal cr... Read more about food poisoningtreatments

Medical Reviewer: William C. Lloyd III, MD, FACS Last Annual Review Date: Aug 9, 2013 Copyright: © Copyright 2014 Health Grades, Inc. All rights reserved. May not be reproduced or reprinted without permission from Health Grades, Inc. Use of this information is governed by the HealthGrades User Agreement.

This Article is Filed Under: Digestive System

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