Skip Ribbon Commands
Skip to main content
Skip Navigation LinksBoys Town Pediatrics > Knowledge Center > Health Articles > Food Poisoning

Food Poisoning

​​​By ​Annie Zimmer, M.D.

​​

​​​It can happen anywhere – in a restaurant, at home, in the car. Suddenly your child complains of a stomachache or feeling ill, and the next thing you know, you're rushing them to the bathroom.

Food poisoning is a common ailment caused by bacteria or a virus infecting your food or drink. Some of these bacteria or viruses release toxins/poisons into the body, hence the name food poisoning. Food poisoning can normally be treated at home and passes within a day or so.

What Causes Food Poisoning?

Food poisoning typically stems from animal-based foods such as dairy products, eggs, meat, poultry or seafood. Food can be contaminated at any stage in the food process.

  • Water used to grow food can be infected with feces (animal or human)
  • Meat or poultry that comes into contact with infectious microorganisms during processing or shipping
  • Food is improperly stored, either at the wrong temperature or for too long
  • Cooks or other food handlers with unclean hands or unclean prepping materials (cutting boards, cutlery, etc.)

There are several common germs that can cause food poisoning in certain foods.

  • Salmonella​
  • E. coli (Escherichia coli)
  • Listeria
  • Campylobacter
  • Staphylococcus aureus
  • Shigella
  • Hepatitis A
  • Noroviruses

Symptoms of Food Poisoning

Symptoms typically emerge within a few hours of being infected, but may also take more time to become evident. They typically clear up within one to 10 days. Symptoms include:

  • Nausea
  • Abdominal pain and cramps
  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Fever
  • Headache
  • Overall feeling of weakness and fatigue

The most serious side effect of food poisoning is dehydration, which is caused by fluid loss due to diarrhea or vomiting. If dehydration becomes severe, IV fluid treatment may be necessary. Your child may be dehydrated if he or she is exhibiting:

  • Extreme thirst
  • Little or no urination
  • Dizziness
  • Sunken eyes
  • Lightheadedness or weakness

Treatment for Food Poisoning

Your physician will ask for a recent eating history and may take samples of blood, stool or urine to check for specific bacteria. More severe cases may call for antibiotics, but food poisoning usually runs its course with no emergency medical assistance needed. You can typically use the following at-home treatments to help your child recover:

  • Get plenty of rest
  • Drink fluids, such as electrolyte solutions, to protect against dehydration
  • Avoid caffeinated beverages
  • Take small, frequent sips to make sure fluid stays down
  • Do not give over-the-counter anti-diarrhea medications – this symptoms worse, you want the body to eliminate the virus and infection
  • After vomiting has ceased, offer small, bland, low-fat meals for a few days to avoid a stomach upset

Food Poisoning Prevention

There are several steps you can take to avoid food poisoning in your family.

  • Practice proper hand hygiene particularly before touching food and after preparing raw food
  • Use hot soapy water to clean all cutting boards, utensils and surfaces used during food preparation
  • Make sure meats are cooked thoroughly by cutting them while cooking
  • Wash all raw fruits and vegetables
  • Don't drink or serve foods containing unpasteurized milk
  • Keep raw foods (meats, seafood and poultry) away from other food
  • Quickly refrigerate leftovers in tightly sealed containers
  • Check expiration dates – if the date has past, the food smells strange or tastes funny, throw it out
  • Do not drink water from streams or untreated well systems