Categories: Disease

Food poisoning: what to do, what to eat, when to consult?


Discover everything you need to know about food poisoning.

When certain bacteria (salmonella, campylobacter, listeria, E. coli, etc.) appear on the menu, good meals are sometimes difficult to digest. What are the causes of food poisoning? How to avoid it? How to recognize and differentiate it from gastroenteritis? What gestures to adopt in the child? FoodsDesk answers you.

What is food poisoning?

Food poisoning is a  gastrointestinal infection. It is due to recent ingestion of food or water containing bacteria, parasites, viruses, poisons, or heavy metals (lead or mercury in particular).

It is often linked to the consumption of unusual or suspicious foods such as spoiled food, poisonous plants, or mushrooms, but also the consumption of “contaminated” agricultural products (fertilizers, pesticides, and other weedkillers).


Food poisoning can also occur in children, especially infants even before food diversification with:

Consumption of water or contaminated infant milk;

When breastfeeding if the mother has ingested contaminated food. 

Symptoms of food poisoning

In the case of food poisoning, it is most often   gastrointestinal symptomatology : 


Stomach pain  ;

Diarrhea  ;

Nausea and vomiting;

Fever  ;


Headache  ;

Fatigue .

Note: in general, food poisoning affects several people who have shared the same meal.

Prevent food poisoning

To avoid food poisoning, health authorities advise:


Respect the use-by dates and the cold chain  ;

Do not refreeze thawed food ;

Respect the storage temperature conditions and check them according to the zones of your refrigerator  ;

Throw away any canned food that is bulging or has an unusual odor or appearance when  opened  ;


Transfer the contents of an open tin can into a non-metallic container for storage  ;

Only collect mushrooms (and/or plants) that you know well. Transport them in a basket, without mixing the species (a poisonous fungus can contaminate the others).

Eat mushrooms that are still young and cook them well. If you have any doubt about a species, show the fungi and/or plants to your pharmacist and if the doubt persists, throw them away  ;

Do not leave a child alone in a garden or an outdoor space in which there are  shrubs with toxic berries and leaves (cotoneaster, cherry laurel, arum, etc.) or often harmful lawn fungi ;


Do not mix alcohol and drugs.

What causes food poisoning?

Several pathogens are known to hide in food. Here are some examples of diseases that are difficult to digest:

Salmonella infections

They are caused by the Salmonella bacteria (non-typhoid). It manifests itself after an incubation of 8 to 48 hours. 

Symptoms of salmonellosis: diarrhea, headache, abdominal pain, nausea, vomiting, fever;


Foods involved: meats, cold meats, poultry, eggs and egg products, dairy products, fish, and seafood. These are generally foods eaten raw or undercooked.

Campylobacter infection

It is caused by the bacteria Campylobacter jejuni. The disorders appear after an incubation of 2 to 5 days.

Symptoms of Campylobacter infection: diarrhea, abdominal pain, vomiting, and fever, with rare complications; 

Food involved: consumption of contaminated meat (chicken, pork), especially when it is undercooked. But it can also be milk or water. There is also transmitted through contact with animals.



It is a bacterial infection, caused by Listeria monocytogenes.

Symptoms of listeriosis: meningitis and sepsis, miscarriage  in pregnant women ; 

Food in question: cheeses made from raw milk, smoked fish, and certain cold cuts such as pâtés, rillettes, and jelly products.


Botulism is poisoning by toxins released by a bacterium, Clostridium botulinum. The first symptoms usually appear  12 to 36 hours after infection.


Symptoms of botulism: visual disturbances, dry mouth, paralysis, vomiting, constipation or on contrary diarrhea…;

Food in question: “home” canned food-soiled with soil, uncooked cold meats, and fish.


It is a zoonosis caused by bacteria of the genus Brucella. The incubation period can vary from a few days to several months.

Symptoms of brucellosis: fever, headache, diffuse pain, sweating, fatigue;


Food involved: fresh cheese, sheep’s or goat’s milk, or contact with animals.

Enterotoxin-producing Escherichia coli infection

The Escherichia coli infection made headlines in the United States in 1982 where it caused epidemics of bloody diarrhea following the consumption of contaminated burgers. The incubation period is 3 days.

Symptoms of E. coli infection:  banal diarrhea or, most often, hemorrhagic colitis, which can be dangerous in children and the elderly (kidney damage and even death);

Foods involved:  beef (especially minced meat) but also deer, sheep, goats, horses, unpasteurized milk, fruit juice, raw vegetables.


Poisoning by Staphylococcus aureus (Staphylococcus aureus)

The Staphylococcus aureus is due to the ingestion of staphylococcal toxins. It manifests itself after a short incubation period: 2 to 4 hours.

Symptoms of Staphylococcus aureus infection: nausea, severe vomiting and abdominal pain, diarrhea; 

Food in question:  food contamination occurs during their preparation by a sick person (suffering from nasopharyngitis).


In addition, the contaminated food must be left at room temperature for several hours, so that the toxin can multiply.

This applies in particular to sandwiches, salads, pastries, sliced meats, etc. The consumption of certain raw dairy products (cheese, milk) can also be involved.

The tapeworm or tænia

It is a parasite of the digestive tract. Incubation is  2 to 3 months.

Symptoms: Often there is no sign. Eventually, some digestive troubles may appear. Sometimes weight loss occurs. The worm rings are found in the stool  ;


Food involved: raw or undercooked beef.


It is caused by a parasite that normally affects the cat.

Symptoms of toxoplasmosis: moderate fever, neck pain, rash. In immunocompromised people and pregnant women, the infection may be serious; 

Food involved: the infection is by ingestion of eggs after contact with a litter, but the consumption of meat (especially mutton) may be involved.


Note: we can also mention cholera, typhoid fever, hepatitis A, etc. which may be foodborne.

What are the differences between food poisoning and gastroenteritis?

Most of the symptoms are similar and yet they are not the same illnesses. Gastroenteritis is an inflammation of the lining of the digestive tract which is mainly caused by viruses, bacteria, or parasites.

It is contagious, unlike food poisoning. When it is of viral origin, gastroenteritis can cause, unlike food poisoning, cramps, muscle pain, and/or headaches. 

Treatments, dietary recommendations, when to consult

In general


The disease is generally transient and does not require specific treatment. But it is important to hydrate: if the ingested water is systematically regurgitated, the patient must go to the hospital to be rehydrated intravenously. 

It is also about adapting your diet until there is a cure:

Consume mainly lean meats and fish, as well as starches ; 

Avoid fruits and vegetables at first, then when symptoms improve, prefer cooked vegetables; 


Gradually reintegrate raw fruits and vegetables, then other foods according to your doctor’s advice. 

Depending on the toxins responsible for the disease, the doctor may prescribe a specific antibiotic treatment. 

To avoid 

Take anti-diarrhea drugs without medical advice because they are not recommended in cases of infectious diarrhea; 


Induce vomiting: which will not help you recover faster. 

In infants and children

Be sure to hydrate it well and watch for signs of dehydration: the infant is difficult to wake up and sleeps a lot, he moans, he behaves unusually, breathes quickly, has vomiting …

Your doctor may also suggest that you use oral rehydration solutions (ORS) in the dehydrated child


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