Food poisoning is caused by infectious or toxic agents. Infectious agents include bacteria, parasites, and viruses. Toxic agents include pesticides on fruits or vegetables, poisonous mushrooms, or improperly prepared exotic foods (for example, barracuda). Symptoms of food poisoning include vomiting, nausea, diarrhea, and abdominal cramps. Treatment of food poisoning depends upon the cause.
John P. Cunha, DO, is a U.S. board-certified Emergency Medicine Physician. Dr. Cunha's educational background includes a BS in Biology from Rutgers, the State University of New Jersey, and a DO from the Kansas City University of Medicine and Biosciences in Kansas City, MO. He completed residency training in Emergency Medicine at Newark Beth Israel Medical Center in Newark, New Jersey.
Melissa Conrad Stöppler, MD, is a U.S. board-certified Anatomic Pathologist with subspecialty training in the fields of Experimental and Molecular Pathology. Dr. Stöppler's educational background includes a BA with Highest Distinction from the University of Virginia and an MD from the University of North Carolina. She completed residency training in Anatomic Pathology at Georgetown University followed by subspecialty fellowship training in molecular diagnostics and experimental pathology.
Food poisoning is a common, usually mild, but sometimes deadly illness. Typical symptoms include
vomiting, abdominal cramping, and diarrhea that
occur suddenly (within 48 hours) after consuming a contaminated food or drink. Depending on the contaminant, fever and chills,
bloody stools, dehydration, and nervous system damage may follow. These symptoms may affect one person or a group of people who ate the same thing (called an outbreak).
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that in the United States,
1 in 6 people becomes sick from eating contaminated food. In 2012, the CDC
estimated that food poisoning causes about
48 million illnesses, and up to 3,000 deaths each
Norovirus and salmonella are the most common infectious forms of
food-borne illness. Salmonella causes the most deaths followed by Toxoplasma
Nearly one in five episodes of diarrhea is likely to be due
to a food-borne disease.
Worldwide, diarrheal illnesses are among the leading causes of death. Travelers to developing countries often encounter food poisoning in the form of
traveler's diarrhea or "Montezuma's revenge." Additionally, there are
possible new global threats to the world's food supply through terrorist actions using food toxins as weapons.
Increased virulence of known pathogens has caused deadly outbreaks such as
the E. Coli STEC outbreak in Germany in 2011.
In 2013 there was an outbreak in the U.S. of 514 cases of Cyclospora
infection reported in 17 states and at least 30 people were hospitalized as
of August 2013.
Reviewed by Melissa Conrad Stöppler, MD on 8/12/2013