food poisoning symptoms causes information | The Old Farmer's Almanac

Food Poisoning Symptoms and Information

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Have you ever left a restaurant feeling a little ill and were concerned it might be more than just a full stomach? Before judging, check our basic information on food poisoning symptons so you can be sure if it is just a full stomach or something more serious.

What is food poisoning?

Food poisoning, or foodborne illness, occurs when someone consumes a food or beverage that is contaminated by toxins. These toxins are produced by certain kinds of bacteria that have grown in the food or beverage due to improper handling or cooking temperatures.

Outbreaks of food poisoning most commonly occur in large-scale, food-serving places such as restaurants, school cafeterias, or catering companies.

What are the causes of food poisoning?

Foods usually become contaminated through improper handling from both the cooks and environment.

Food poisoning often occurs from eating foods that were…

  • not cooked thoroughly or stored at proper temperatures
  • prepared by someone who does not use proper hand-washing techniques
  • prepared using cooking utensils, cutting boards, or other tools that were not properly cleaned
  • kept out of the refrigerator too long

What are the food poisoning symptoms?

There is no set list of food poisoning symptoms, but there are some common ones. The most common are:

  • abdominal cramps
  • nausea
  • vomiting
  • diarrhea
  • weakness

Other possible symptoms are fever, chills, and headaches.

The time between eating contaminated food and experiencing food poisoning varies; it could be as little as a couple hours after eating, or as much as a couple of days.

A good way to judge if an illness is food poisoning is if someone you shared a meal with is experiencing similar symptoms at the same time you are, it is likely that you have food poisoning.

How can it be avoided?

The best way to avoid food poisoning is to use good food safety practices. Food safety involves three main areas: food storage, food handling, and cooking.

Food Storage

It is important to maintain safe food temperatures when storing foods. Refrigerators should be kept at about 40°F, and it is important to keep cold foods chilled so they do not spoil. Do not keep foods at room temperature for longer than two hours.

Food Handling

Remember to practice good hygiene. Always thoroughly wash your hands with soap and water before, during, and after food preparation, as well as after handling raw meats.

It is also important to keep your cooking spaces clean. Be sure to clean your preparation surfaces, utensils, and equipment before, during, and after preparing food, especially when using raw meats.


Thoroughly cook all food so as to avoid serving unsafe food. According to the USDA, there are minimum safe internal temperatures for dishes:

  • 145°F for steaks, roasts, and fish
  • 160°F for pork, ground beef, and egg dishes
  • 165°F for chicken breasts and whole poultry

It is also important to wash all produce before serving or cooking and to throw away any foods past their expiration date.

Many times you will be able to judge when food is spoiled; usually the food looks or smells bad. Remember to throw away any bad foods.

Is there any treatment for food poisoning?

There is no real treatment for food poisoning itself; the only thing to do is to wait it out and relieve the symptoms.

If you have a common type of food poisoning, you will recover within 12 to 48 hours. The most important thing to remember when recovering is to drink a lot of fluids to prevent dehydration. Also, avoid solid foods and dairy products until the diarrhea and vomiting has passed. 

If any of these symptoms are severe, seek medical treatment immediately.

About The Author

Sarah Perreault

Senior editor, Sarah Perreault, works on all things Almanac, but is especially proud to be the editor of our Old Farmer’s Almanac for Kids series. Read More from Sarah Perreault

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