Food Poisoning (for Parents) - Nemours KidsHealth (2023)

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  • What Is Food Poisoning?

    Food poisoning is caused by bacteria and, sometimes, viruses or other germs. They can get into the food we eat or the liquids we drink. We can't taste, smell, or see these germs (at least not without a microscope). But even though they're tiny, they can have a powerful effect on the body.

    When germs that cause food poisoning get into our systems, they can release toxins. These toxins are poisons (the reason for the name "food poisoning"), and can cause diarrhea and vomiting.

    Usually, doctors use "food poisoning" to describe an illness that comes on quickly after eating contaminated food. People often get diarrhea or start throwing up within a few hours after being infected. The good news is, food poisoning usually goes away quickly too. Most people recover in a couple of days with no lasting problems.

    In a few cases, severe food poisoning can mean a visit to the doctor or hospital. When people need medical treatment for food poisoning, it's often because of dehydration. Getting dehydrated is the most common serious complication of food poisoning.

    What Are the Signs & Symptoms of Food Poisoning?

    How food poisoning shows up depends on the germ that caused it. Someone might start to feel sick within an hour or two of eating or drinking contaminated food or liquid. Other times, symptoms may not appear for a number of weeks. In most cases, symptoms will clear up within 1 to 10 days.

    Signs that a child might have food poisoning include:

    • nausea (feeling sick)
    • belly pain and cramps
    • vomiting
    • diarrhea
    • fever
    • headache and overall weakness

    In rare cases, food poisoning can make someone feel dizzy, have blurry vision, or notice tingling in the arms. In very rare cases, the weakness that sometimes goes along with food poisoning will cause trouble breathing.

    What Causes Food Poisoning?

    When people eat or drink something that's contaminated with germs, they can get sick with food poisoning. Often, people get food poisoning from animal-based foods — like meat, poultry, eggs, dairy products, and seafood. But unwashed fruits, vegetables, and other raw foods also can be contaminated and make people sick. Even water can cause food poisoning.

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    Foods and liquids can be contaminated at lots of different points during food preparation, storage, and handling. For example:

    • Water that is used to grow food can become infected with animal or human feces (poop).
    • Meat or poultry may come into contact with germs during processing or shipping.
    • Bacteria can infect foods stored at the wrong temperature or kept too long.
    • Cooks or other food handlers can contaminate foods if they don't wash their hands or they use unclean utensils or cutting boards.

    People with health conditions (like chronic kidney disease) or weakened immune systems are more at risk of getting ill from food poisoning than people who are in good health.

    What Germs Cause Food Poisoning?

    Germs that often cause food poisoning include:

    Salmonella.Salmonella bacteria are the leading cause of food poisoning in the United States. These bacteria usually get into foods when they come into contact with animal feces. The main causes of salmonella poisoning are eating dairy products, undercooked meat, and fresh produce that hasn't been washed well.

    E. coli (Escherichia coli). E. coli bacteria usually get into food or water when they come into contact with animal feces. Eating undercooked ground beef is the most common cause of E. coli poisoning in the United States.

    Listeria. These bacteria are mostly found in unpasteurized dairy products, smoked seafood, and processed meats like hot dogs and lunchmeats. Listeria bacteria also can contaminate fruits and vegetables, although that's less common.

    Campylobacter. These bacteria most commonly infect meat, poultry, and unpasteurized milk. Campylobacter also can contaminate water. As with other kinds of bacteria, these usually get into foods through contact with infected animal feces.

    Staphylococcus aureus. These bacteria (which can be found in meats, prepared salads, and foods made with contaminated dairy products) spread through hand contact, sneezing, or coughing. That means that people who prepare or handle food can spread the infection.

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    Shigella. Shigella bacteria can infect seafood or raw fruits and vegetables. Most of the time these bacteria spread when people who prepare or handle food don't wash their hands properly after using the bathroom. Sometimes, an infection causes blood in the stool (poop).

    Hepatitis A. People mostly get this virus from eating raw shellfish or foods that have been handled by someone who is infected. It can be hard to know the source of an infection because people may not get sick for 15 to 50 days afterward.

    Norovirus.Norovirus infections spread easily from person to person, especially in crowded settings, like daycares and schools.

    Some of these, including Listeria and E. coli, can cause potentially dangerous heart, kidney, and bleeding problems.

    When Should I Call the Doctor?

    Most cases of food poisoning don't need medical attention, but some do. The most common serious problem from food poisoning is dehydration. A child who is healthy is unlikely to get dehydrated as long as he or she drinks enough liquids to replace what's lost through throwing up or diarrhea.

    Call the doctor if your child has any of these symptoms:

    • vomiting that lasts for more than 12 hours
    • diarrhea with a fever higher than 101°F (38.3°C)
    • severe belly pain that doesn't go away after a bowel movement
    • bloody feces (diarrhea or regular poop) or bloody vomit
    • bowel movements that are black or maroon
    • a racing or pounding heart

    It's important to watch for signs of dehydration, which include:

    • extreme thirst
    • making little or no urine (pee)
    • dizziness
    • sunken eyes
    • lightheadedness or weakness

    If your family recently been to a foreign country and your child starts having diarrhea or other stomach problems, call your doctor.

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    Food poisoning (especially dehydration) can be more serious for people with weakened immune systems or health conditions. If your child has a health condition (such as kidney problems or sickle cell disease), call your doctor right away. Pregnant women also should let their doctors know if they get food poisoning as some germs can affect the unborn child.

    How Is Food Poisoning Diagnosed?

    A doctor will ask about what your child ate most recently and when symptoms began. The doctor will do an exam, and might take a sample of blood, stool, or pee and send it to a lab for analysis. This will help the doctor find out what's causing the illness.

    How Is Food Poisoning Treated?

    Usually, food poisoning runs its course and kids get better on their own. Occasionally, though, doctors prescribe antibiotics to treat more severe types of bacterial food poisoning. A child with severe dehydration may need to be treated in a hospital with intravenous (IV) fluids.

    At-Home Care

    Food poisoning usually goes away on its own in a few days. To help your child feel better in the meantime, make sure he or she:

    • Gets plenty of rest.
    • Drinks liquids to protect against dehydration. Electrolyte solutions work, but anything except milk or caffeinated beverages will do.
    • Takes small, frequent sips to make it easier to keep the fluids down.
    • Avoids solid foods and dairy products until any diarrhea has stopped.

    Do not give over-the-counter anti-diarrhea medicines. These can make the symptoms of food poisoning last longer. When diarrhea and vomiting have stopped, offer your child small, bland, low-fat meals for a few days to prevent further stomach upset.

    If symptoms become serious or you see signs of dehydration, call your doctor.

    How Can We Prevent Food Poisoning?

    Follow these tips to help protect your family from food poisoning:

    • Teach everyone in your family to wash their hands well and often, especially after using the bathroom, before touching food, and after touching raw food. Use soap and warm water and scrub for at least 15 seconds.
    • Clean all utensils, cutting boards, and surfaces that you use to prepare food with hot, soapy water.
    • Don't serve unpasteurized milk or food that contains unpasteurized milk.
    • Wash all raw vegetables and fruits that you can't peel yourself.
    • Keep raw foods (especially meat, poultry, and seafood) away from other foods until they're cooked.
    • Use perishable food or any food with an expiration date as soon as possible.
    • Cook all food from animal sources to a safe internal temperature. For ground beef and pork, this means at least 160°F (71°C). For solid cuts of meat, the safe temperature is 145°F (63°C). For chicken and turkey (ground and whole), it's at least 165°F (74°C). Cook chicken eggs until the yolk is firm. Fish generally is safe to eat once it reaches a temperature of 145°F (63°C).
    • Refrigerate leftovers quickly, preferably in containers with lids that snap tightly shut.
    • Defrost foods in the refrigerator, a microwave, or cold water. Food should never be thawed at room temperature.
    • If food is past its expiration date, tastes funny, or smells strange, throw it out.
    • If you're pregnant, avoid all raw or undercooked meat or seafood, smoked seafood, raw eggs and products that might contain raw eggs, soft cheeses, unpasteurized milk and juice, patés, prepared salads, luncheon meats, and hot dogs.
    • Don't drink water from streams or untreated wells.

    If someone in your family gets food poisoning, tell your local health department. Officials there might be able to find the cause and stop an outbreak that could affect others.

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    What can I give my 5 year old for food poisoning? ›

    Children. If your child has food poisoning, you should give your child an oral rehydration solution—such as Pedialyte, Naturalyte, Infalyte, and CeraLyte—as directed. Talk with a doctor about giving these solutions to your infant. Infants should drink breast milk or formula as usual.

    Can you name 3 symptoms of food poisoning? ›

    Symptoms begin 30 minutes to 8 hours after exposure: Nausea, vomiting, stomach cramps. Most people also have diarrhea.

    How quickly does food poisoning kick in? ›

    The symptoms of food poisoning usually begin within one to two days of eating contaminated food, although they may start at any point between a few hours and several weeks later. The main symptoms include: feeling sick (nausea) vomiting.

    What can I give my 3 year old for food poisoning? ›

    Your child has food poisoning if they have symptoms of nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea that come on within hours after eating and lasts for only a couple of days. The best thing you can do is make sure that they get plenty of snuggles, rest, and fluids.

    What helps food poisoning fast for kids? ›

    To help your child feel better in the meantime, make sure he or she:
    1. Gets plenty of rest.
    2. Drinks liquids to protect against dehydration. ...
    3. Takes small, frequent sips to make it easier to keep the fluids down.
    4. Avoids solid foods and dairy products until any diarrhea has stopped.

    What happens if a kid gets food poisoning? ›

    Food poisoning symptoms include nausea, vomiting, stomach pain and diarrhoea. Children probably won't need any specific treatment for food poisoning. If children have food poisoning, they should avoid dairy products and drink plenty of fluids.

    What can be mistaken for food poisoning? ›

    It can be hard to differentiate between food poisoning and the flu; often the symptoms are similar if not identical. While different types of pathogenic bacteria can cause different symptoms, food poisoning generally presents itself with symptoms such as nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, abdominal cramping, and fever.

    How can I tell if it's food poisoning or virus? ›

    The biggest difference between the two illnesses is in the timing: If you develop symptoms within a few hours of eating, it's likely to be food poisoning. Stomach flu symptoms typically appear within a day or two after exposure to the virus.

    How do you confirm food poisoning? ›

    For a stool test, your doctor will send a sample of your stool to a lab, where a technician will try to identify the infectious organism. If an organism is found, your doctor likely will notify your local health department to determine if the food poisoning is linked to an outbreak.

    What are the 4 types of food poisoning? ›

    At least 250 different kinds of food poisoning have been documented, but the most common ones are e. coli, listeria, salmonella, and norovirus, which is commonly called "stomach flu." Other less common illnesses that can be transferred from food or food handling are botulism, campylobacter, vibrio, and shigella.

    Should you go to hospital with food poisoning? ›

    Generally, food poisoning symptoms can be treated at home with rest, fluids, and bland foods. But if you start noticing severe signs of dehydration, abnormal pain, and bloody vomit or stools, it's time to receive food poisoning treatment in the ER.

    How long should food poisoning last? ›

    How long does food poisoning last? Most of the time, food poisoning passes within 12 to 48 hours. That's how long it takes for a healthy body to purge the infection. It may last longer if you have a weakened immune system, or if you have a parasite that needs to be treated with antibiotics.

    Can food poisoning go away in 3 days? ›

    Sickness caused by food poisoning generally lasts from a few hours to several days.

    How do kids act with food poisoning? ›

    If your kid develops symptoms of nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea within hours of eating and lasts for a few days, they may be suffering from food poisoning. The best thing you can do for them is to make sure they get enough rest to recuperate.

    Does food poisoning clear up on its own? ›

    Food poisoning usually goes away on its own in a few days. You can do a few things to take care of yourself: Get plenty of rest. Drink liquids to protect against dehydration.

    What can you give a child for upset stomach and vomiting? ›

    It's best to give your child clear fluids, such as apple juice mixed with water or sport electrolyte drinks. If your child has signs of dehydration, give them an electrolyte maintenance solution such as Pedialyte.

    What to do after vomiting? ›

    Do not eat or drink anything for several hours after vomiting. Sip small amounts of water or suck ice chips every 15 minutes for 3-4 hours. Next, sip clear liquids every 15 minutes for 3-4 hours. Examples include water, sports drinks, flat soda, clear broth, gelatin, flavored ice, popsicles or apple juice.

    Can kids go to school after food poisoning? ›

    Most kids get fully back to normal within 1 to 5 days, but check with your doctor before sending your child back to school or daycare. If your child still has diarrhea, they could still be contagious. Even when you get your doctor's go-ahead, keep in mind that your child may still have some diarrhea or loose poop.

    Can I be around someone with food poisoning? ›

    In general, if you are in close contact with someone who has food poisoning, it is best to stay away, says Healthline. According to Self, you can get food poisoning not only by eating contaminated foods, but also from exposure to bodily fluids, including diarrhea or vomit, of an infected person.

    What age is a child at greatest risk for poisoning? ›

    Fatal poisonings are more common in children under the age of 1 but the peak time for non-fatal poisonings is between the ages of 1 and 4. The danger is particularly high for toddlers - at around the age of 2, when young children become more mobile and able to get hold of poisons.

    What is the difference between a stomach bug and food poisoning? ›

    “You can also get a stomach bug by touching any surface that has been in contact with the stool, saliva or vomit of someone infected with the virus.” By contrast, the cause of food poisoning is consumption of food or water contaminated by bacteria, certain viruses, and less commonly, parasites.

    Can it be food poisoning without vomiting? ›

    Clostridium perfringens is yet another bacteria found in raw meat and poultry that leads to a million more cases of food poisoning every year. It produces a toxin inside your intestines that causes cramps and diarrhea. So there's no vomiting or fever with this infection.

    Is food poisoning hard to prove? ›

    While it may not be difficult to prove that you have food poisoning, it often is difficult to prove who was responsible, because it may be hard to trace to exactly what it was that caused you to become ill.

    What are the six signs of food poisoning? ›

    Food poisoning
    • feeling sick (nausea)
    • diarrhoea.
    • being sick (vomiting)
    • stomach cramps.
    • a high temperature of 38C or above.
    • feeling generally unwell – such as feeling tired or having aches and chills.

    Why does food poisoning last so long? ›

    “Most of the time, food poisoning will set in within a few hours of eating contaminated food,” Dr. Lee says. “The severity of your symptoms and how long it will last is mostly dictated by what strain of germs you ingested, how much you were exposed to and how strong your immune system is to fight it off.”

    What is the fastest acting food poisoning? ›

    Staph food poisoning is characterized by a sudden start of nausea, vomiting, and stomach cramps. Most people also have diarrhea. Symptoms usually develop within 30 minutes to 8 hours after eating or drinking an item containing Staph toxin, and last no longer than 1 day. Severe illness is rare.

    What is the most deadliest food poisoning? ›

    The most dangerous types of food poisoning include E. coli and botulism. Some foods are poisonous. Examples include some kinds of mushrooms and certain kinds of fish (or their organs).

    Is food poisoning painful? ›

    Abdominal Pain and Cramps

    In cases of food poisoning, harmful organisms can produce toxins that irritate the lining of your stomach and intestines. This can result in painful inflammation in your stomach, which may cause pain in your abdomen.

    What is the most common cause of poisoning in children? ›

    Medications are the leading cause of child poisoning today. Each year, more than 500,000 children under the age of five experience a potential poisoning related to medications. More than 60,000 children are treated in emergency departments due to accidental unsupervised ingestions each year.

    What helps diarrhea fast for kids? ›

    How is diarrhea treated?
    1. Offer drinks called glucose-electrolyte solutions. ...
    2. Avoid juice or soda. ...
    3. Not give plain water to your baby.
    4. Not give too much plain water to kids of any age. ...
    5. Keep breastfeeding your baby. ...
    6. Keep feeding your baby formula, if you were already doing so.

    How long does food poisoning last 3 days? ›

    Most cases of food poisoning will take 1 to 5 days to fully recover from. Young children, elderly, pregnant women, and those with underlying medical or immune system conditions are at increased risk of developing severe illness from food poisoning.

    How long does food poisoning last in 5 year old? ›

    Most cases of food poisoning get better in 5 to 10 days without treatment. Some things you can do to help your child while they're sick include: Drinking a lot of liquids. Some food poisoning symptoms can cause dehydration.

    What can I give my 5 year old after vomiting? ›

    If your child has vomiting, help prevent dehydration by giving an oral rehydration solution (such as Pedialyte, Enfalyte, or a store brand). It has the right amounts of water, sugar, and salt to help with dehydration. You can buy it without a prescription at drugstores or supermarkets.

    What to give a 5 year old that is throwing up? ›

    For the first twenty-four hours or so of any illness that causes vomiting, keep your child off solid foods, and encourage her to suck or drink small amounts of electrolyte solution (ask your pediatrician which one), clear fluids such as water, sugar water (1/2 teaspoon [2.5 ml] sugar in 4 ounces [120 ml] of water), ...

    What helps a 5 year old with vomiting? ›

    How do I treat my vomiting child at home? Most cases of vomiting respond well to gentle care at home. What's important is that your child stays hydrated and drinks plenty of fluids. Breast milk, formula, oral rehydration solution are all suitable, but avoid offering drinks that contain a lot of sugar.

    How do you make food poisoning go away faster? ›

    Lifestyle and home remedies
    1. Let your stomach settle. Stop eating and drinking for a few hours.
    2. Try sucking on ice chips or taking small sips of water. ...
    3. Probiotics. ...
    4. Ease back into eating. ...
    5. Avoid certain foods and substances until you're feeling better. ...
    6. Rest.
    26 Jun 2020

    Should I give my child water after vomiting? ›

    Looking after your child at home

    The most important thing you can do is make sure they keep drinking fluids to prevent dehydration. If your baby is vomiting, carry on breastfeeding or giving them milk feeds. If they seem dehydrated, they will need extra fluids.

    How do you settle kids stomach after vomiting? ›

    Avoid giving your child solid food for the first 24 hours after the vomiting starts. Instead, give them clear fluid in small, frequent doses (every 5 minutes) by spoon or bottle. You can also have your child suck on ice cubes or cold, wet washcloths. Older children can sip their drinks through a straw.

    Should I drink water after vomiting? ›

    Do not eat or drink anything for several hours after vomiting. Sip small amounts of water or suck ice chips every 15 minutes for 3-4 hours. Next, sip clear liquids every 15 minutes for 3-4 hours. Examples include water, sports drinks, flat soda, clear broth, gelatin, flavored ice, popsicles or apple juice.

    What to feed kids after vomiting? ›

    After about 6 to 8 hours of giving clear liquids and your child is no longer vomiting, try to get them to start eating some food. Starchy, bland foods like cereals, crackers, or bread are easier to digest. Avoid foods high in sugar and greasy, fried foods.

    Is banana good for vomiting? ›

    Overview. Bananas can help relieve an upset stomach by stimulating the production of mucus from the stomach lining. The mucus creates a barrier between the stomach lining and the acidic gastric substances that cause heartburn and stomach upset.

    How long does food poisoning last? ›

    Symptoms of food poisoning can appear anywhere between four hours and one week after ingesting a contaminated food item, and can persist for as short a time as 24 hours or as long as a week. This variability in both onset and duration of symptoms is another reason food poisoning so often goes unidentified.

    When should I take my 5 year old to the hospital for vomiting? ›

    Call Your Doctor If:

    Vomits all clear fluids for more than 8 hours. Vomiting lasts more than 24 hours. Blood or bile (green color) in the vomit.

    What to drink to stop vomiting for kids? ›

    Try ginger juice and honey : Ginger works well for nausea and vomiting. Grind a small piece of ginger, crush the juice out of the grated ginger and add a little honey to make it delicious. Keep on giving this mixture to your child twice or thrice a day.


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