For the media

Is it food poisoning?

By The Health News Team | August 25, 2023
Woman feeling sick and covering her mouth

It usually happens after you’ve eaten out. Maybe you went to a local restaurant or a neighborhood potluck — or maybe you were the chef at home. But uncomfortable feelings that hit soon after eating can leave you wondering whether you’re coming down with a stomach bug or have an unfortunate case of food poisoning.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), food poisoning — also known as foodborne illness or disease — is caused by certain germs, such as salmonella, listeria or E. coli. Raw foods are most commonly associated with food poisoning, especially raw or undercooked meat and poultry, raw or lightly cooked eggs, unpasteurized milk and raw shellfish. Fruits and vegetables also may be contaminated.

Approximately 48 million people get sick, 128,000 are hospitalized and 3,000 die from foodborne diseases each year in the U.S. What’s more, about 50% of people age 65 and older who have foodborne illness from salmonella, listeria or E. coli are hospitalized.

Recognizing and treating food poisoning

The symptoms of food poisoning can range from mild to serious and last just hours or up to several days. Common symptoms of food poisoning include:

  • Diarrhea

  • Stomach pain or cramps

  • Nausea

  • Vomiting

  • Fever

Mild cases of food poisoning can usually be treated at home. It is most important to replace fluids and electrolytes lost due to diarrhea and vomiting by drinking water, diluted fruit juices, sports drinks and broths. You can also add saltine crackers to settle your stomach and replace lost electrolytes. Once your appetite returns, you should be able to eat your usual diet.

Older adults, women who are pregnant, people with weakened immune systems and children — all at greater risk of severe illness due to food poisoning — should talk with their doctor about also drinking oral rehydration solutions that contain glucose and electrolytes, such as Pedialyte. Over-the-counter antidiarrheal medications may help adults but should not be given to children.

More severe cases of food poisoning require medical treatment. Serious symptoms include:

  • Bloody diarrhea

  • Diarrhea that lasts more than 3 days

  • High fever (temperature over 102°F)

  • Vomiting so often that you cannot keep liquids down

  • Signs of dehydration, such as urinating less than usual, dry mouth and throat, and feeling dizzy

Talk with your doctor if you experience any of these serious symptoms. The National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive Diseases reports doctors may prescribe antibiotics or medicines that target parasites to treat food poisoning. And some doctors may recommend the use of probiotics. Severe food poisoning may require hospitalization.

Preventing food poisoning at home

While you may not be able to control how food is prepared at restaurants or other people’s homes, the CDC recommends four easy steps that can help protect you from food poisoning when preparing food:



Hands should be washed for at least 20 seconds with soap and warm water before, during and after preparing food and before eating. Utensils and surfaces should be washed with hot, soapy water. And all fruits and vegetables should be thoroughly rinsed under running water.



Keep raw or marinating meat, poultry, seafood and eggs away from other foods in the grocery cart and your refrigerator. Store raw foods in sealed containers or packaging, and use separate cutting boards or plates for preparing raw foods.



Use a food thermometer to ensure foods are cooked to a safe internal temperature. Recommended internal temperatures are as follows:

  • Whole cuts of beef, veal, lamb and pork: 145°F (wait 3 minutes after cooking before carving or eating)

  • Fish with fins: 145°F or cook until the flesh is opaque and separates easily with a fork

  • Ground meats, such as beef and pork: 160°F

  • All poultry, including ground chicken and turkey: 165°F

  • Leftovers and casseroles: 165°F



Refrigerate food promptly and never leave perishable food out longer than 2 hours or 1 hour in temperatures above 90°F. Set your refrigerator at 40°F or below and your freezer at 0°F or below and follow food expiration dates. Do not thaw frozen foods on the kitchen countertop. Instead, thaw food in the refrigerator or microwave.

Preventing food poisoning when pregnant

Additionally, pregnant women and women who may become pregnant should avoid certain foods to decrease their risk of food poisoning, which can lead to miscarriage or premature delivery. Foods to be avoided during pregnancy include:

  • Raw fish, such as sushi and ceviche

  • Unpasteurized juice and cider

  • Raw milk products, including raw soft cheeses such as brie and feta

  • Foods that may contain raw eggs, such as hollandaise sauce

  • Premade chicken or tuna salads

  • Raw sprouts

  • Undercooked meat and poultry

  • Raw dough or batter

  • Meat spreads or pate

The CDC also recommends pregnant women reheat hot dogs and deli meats, even if they are precooked. These items can contain listeria and are unsafe to eat if not thoroughly reheated to steaming hot or 165°F.

Preventing food poisoning when dining out

If dining out, check the restaurant’s health department inspection score. An "A" grade means the facility earned a score of 90% to 100% and is in satisfactory compliance with state law; a "B" means the facility earned a score of 80% to 89% and needs improvement; a "C" means the facility earned a score of 79% or less and is a failing grade.

If you can see food being prepared, keep an eye out for safe-food handling practices, such as wearing gloves to handle foods. And ensure the food your order is cooked thoroughly. Report any cases of possible food poisoning after dining out to your local health department.

Preventing waterborne illness

Illness can also occur if your local water source has, or could have, germs that can make you sick. This often leads to a boil water advisory. Authorities will issue a warning and recommend steps residents can take to avoid waterborne illness due to the consumption of contaminated water.

If your local health officials issue a boil water advisory, it’s important to use bottled water or tap water for drinking, preparing food, bathing and brushing teeth.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) offers the following healthy water tips during a boil water advisory:

  • Use bottled or boiled water for drinking, and to prepare and cook food. This includes washing fruits and vegetables and making ice.

  • If bottled water is not available, bring water to a full rolling boil for 1 minute (at elevations above 6,500 feet, boil for 3 minutes). After boiling, allow the water to cool before use.

  • Boil tap water even if it is filtered (for example, by a home water filter or a pitcher that filters water).

  • Do not use water from any appliance connected to your water line, such as ice and water from a refrigerator.

  • Brush teeth with boiled or bottled water. Do not use tap water that you have not boiled first.

  • Breastfeeding is the best infant feeding option. If you formula feed your child, provide ready-to-use formula, if possible, in sanitized bottles.

  • Be careful not to swallow any water when bathing or showering.

  • Use caution when bathing babies and young children. Consider giving them a sponge bath to reduce the chance of them swallowing water.

  • In many cases, you can use tap water and soap to wash hands during a boil water advisory. Scrub hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds, then rinse them well under running water., or use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer that contains at least 60% alcohol.

  • Give pets bottled water or boiled water that has cooled.

  • If possible, use disposable plates, cups, and utensils during a boil water advisory.

According to the CDC, household dishwashers are usually safe to use during a boil water advisory if the water reaches a final rinse temperature of at least 150° F, or the dishwater has a sanitizing cycle. To wash dishes by hand, wash and rinse the dishes using hot water. In a separate basin, add 1 teaspoon of unscented household liquid bleach for each gallon of warm water and soak the rinsed dishes in the water for at least one minute. Let the dishes air dry completely before using.

Talk with your doctor if you experience symptoms of waterborne illness, which are similar to food poisoning symptoms. And continue to follow the boil water advisory until it is cancelled.

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