Food poisoning: Symptoms, Causes and Complications

Food poisoning: Symptoms, Causes and Complications

Food poisoning is also known as foodborne illness. This is an illness which is caused by eating contaminated food. The most common causes of this condition are infectious organisms such as parasites, viruses and bacteria. But also their toxins are cause for this condition. Infectious organisms or their toxins can contaminate food at any point of their production or processing. Also the contamination can occur at your home if your food is not correctly cooked or handled. The symptoms of this condition can start within hours of eating contaminated food and they often include diarrhea, vomiting or nausea. In the most cases this condition is mild and it resolves without treatment. But also there are some people who need to go the hospital and have a medical treatment. [1]

Symptoms of Food poisoning

The symptoms of this condition vary with the source of the contamination. Most types of food poisoning can cause one or more of the mentioned below signs and symptoms:

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

The signs and symptoms of the food poisoning may start within hours after eating the contaminated food but also they can begin days or even weeks later. Sickness which is caused by this condition generally lasts from a few hours to several days. If you have diarrhea for more than 3 days, you have bloody vomit or stools or you have frequent episodes of vomiting and inability to keep liquids down, then you should visit your doctor as soon as possible. Neurological symptoms such as tingling in the arms, muscle weakness and blurry vision are signs that you need to talk with your doctor. If you have signs or symptoms of dehydration such as lightheadedness, dizziness, severe weakness, little or no urination, dry mouth and excessive thirst, then you ask for medical help as soon as possible. If you have an oral temperature which is higher than 38.6 C (101.5 F) or you have extreme pain or severe abdominal cramping, then you need to talk with your doctor as soon as possible.

Causes: Contamination of food can happen at any point during its production in which is included: preparing, shipping, storing, processing, harvesting and growing.  Cross – contamination is often the cause for this condition. Cross – contamination is a process when there is transfer of harmful organisms from one surface to another. [2] This is especially causing problems for raw and ready – to – eat foods such as salads and other similar products. These foods are not cooked and the harmful organisms are not destroyed before eating and this can lead to food poisoning. Many parasitic, viral or bacterial agents can cause food poisoning.

Food poisoning: Symptoms, Causes and Complications

Risk factors for food poisoning

Here are some risk factors which increase your risk of getting food poisoning:

  • Infants and young children: In this group of people the risk of having food poisoning is big because their immune system is not fully developed. [3]
  • Pregnant women: We know that during pregnancy there are changes in circulation and metabolism and this is a reason why they have increased chances of food poisoning. During the pregnancy, your reaction may be more severe. Also there are same rare cases in which babies can get sick. [4]
  • People with chronic disease: People who have a chronic condition such as AIDS, liver disease or diabetes or people who receive radiation therapy or chemotherapy for cancer have increased chances of getting food poisoning because chronic diseases and therapies are reducing their immune response. [5]
  • Older adults: We know that when we get older, than our immune system may not respond as quickly and effectively to infectious organisms as when we were younger. [6]

Complications: Dehydration is the most common serious complication of food poisoning. If you are adult and healthy, then you should drink a lot of water to replace the fluids you lose from diarrhea and vomiting. People with suppressed immune systems or chronic illnesses, older adults and infants may become severely dehydrated when they lose more fluids than they can replace. There are some types of food poisoning which have potentially serious complications for certain people and they include (a) Escherichia coli & (b) Listeria monocytogenes.

Related content: Food poisoning treatment


[1] Mohd Yusof AM, Rahman NAA, Haque M. Knowledge, attitude, and practice toward food poisoning among food handlers and dietetic students in a public university in Malaysia. Journal of Pharmacy and Bioallied Sciences. 2018;10(4):232–9.

[2] Gorman R, Bloomfield SF, Adley C. A study of cross-contamination of food-borne pathogens in the domestic kitchen in the Republic of Ireland. International Journal of Food Microbiology. 2002;76(1-2):143-50

[3] Okoronkwo CU. Food poisoning of the infantile group,
microbiological standpoint. Journal of Food, Nutrition and Population Health. 2020;4(18).

[4] Tam C, Erebara A, Einarson A. Food-borne illnesses during pregnancy: Prevention and treatment. Canadian Family Physician. 2010;56(4):341–3.

[5] University of California – Davis – Health System. How HIV turns food-poisoning into lethal infection. Science Daily. 2008. Retrieved from

[6] Anderson AL, Verrill LA, Sahyoun NR. Food safety perceptions and practices of older Aadults. Public Health Reports. 2011;126(2):220–7.


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