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PREVENT

Types of food poisoning and how to prevent them

Food poisoning is a common foodborne illness caused by contaminated food. The symptoms can be brutal and start at the worst possible time. Fortunately, food poisoning is highly preventable. Keep reading to learn about six types of food poisoning and how to prevent them.

Types of food poisoning

There are more than 250 types of foodborne illnesses. Some of the most common types of food poisoning include:

Norovirus

Norovirus is the most common cause of foodborne illness. Norovirus is a highly contagious virus caused by interacting with someone with the virus. Norovirus is also caused by consuming contaminated food or water or touching your face after your hands contact a contaminated surface. Norovirus is more common in places with close living quarters or shared water source like cruise ships or dormitories.

Norovirus symptoms start within 12 to 48 hours and usually last one to three days. The most common norovirus symptoms are diarrhea, vomiting, nausea and stomach pain.

Rotavirus

Rotavirus is a highly contagious virus that causes vomiting, a fever, diarrhea, stomach pain, inflammation and other intestinal symptoms. Rotavirus is most common in infants and younger children. Rotavirus symptoms usually start two days after exposure to the virus and last three to eight days. Some medications can ease the symptoms, but antibiotics and antiviral drugs aren’t effective against rotavirus.

Consider getting your kids vaccinated against rotavirus to prevent severe disease. Unvaccinated children in daycare programs are at higher risk of getting rotavirus. Schedule a rotavirus vaccine and other childhood vaccines today.

Salmonella poisoning

Salmonella poisoning is a common type of food poisoning that clings to undercooked poultry and raw eggs. Salmonella is more common in the summer than in winter because its harmful bacteria that cause food poisoning survive better in warmer weather. Salmonella poisoning symptoms start six hours to six days after exposure. Symptoms include diarrhea, fever, stomach cramps and vomiting. Salmonella typically lasts for four to seven days.

You may be more at risk of salmonella poisoning if you take antacids, have inflammatory bowel disease or have pets. Another risk factor for salmonella is recent or long-term antibiotic use. Antibiotics make it harder to ward off salmonella because they kill off the “good” bacteria in your stomach and intestines.

Some types of salmonella, such as traveler’s diarrhea, are more common during international travel. See your health care provider if you have salmonella symptoms when you get back home.

Clostridium perfringens

Clostridium perfringenslounge in meat and poultry, often causing food poisoning when food is unrefrigerated for too long. Symptoms of clostridium perfringens include diarrhea and stomach cramps, and last less than 24 hours.

Listeriosis

The foodborne illness is caused by a germ called listeria. Listeria can survive in refrigerated temperatures and hide in foods, most commonly dairy products and produce. Listeriosis mostly affects pregnant women, newborns, people 65 and older and those with a weakened immune system.

Listeria symptoms start one to four weeks after exposure and last one to three days. Pregnant women usually experience flu-like symptoms. Older adults get headaches, neck stiffness, confusion, a fever and muscle aches. Your provider may recommend antibiotics for listeriosis treatment.

E. Coli.

You likely already have some E. coli in your intestines. Fortunately, you only need to worry about the strains outside of your body. This type of food poisoning happens when you eat or drink food or water contaminated by E. coli. Other causes of E. coli include undercooked meat, unsanitary food handling, person-to-person contact and not washing your hands after touching an animal. E. coli is also responsible for most urinary tract infections and occasionally causes blood in the urine.

Symptoms start three to four days after exposure and usually last five to 10 days. E. coli symptoms include severe stomach cramps, diarrhea and vomiting.

Cross-contamination

Cross-contamination happens when harmful bacteria transfer from one surface to another. Avoidance is your best defense against cross-contamination. Wash your hands and sanitize frequently touched surfaces such as door handles.

Warmer weather

Bacteria thrive in the summer months because bacteria grow quicker in warm weather. When the sun beats down, lower your chances of food poisoning by keeping your food at 40° F or below.

How to prevent food poisoning

Food poisoning is common and highly preventable. You can prevent food poisoning in four easy steps—clean, separate, cook and chill.

Clean often

Invisible to the naked eye, harmful germs that make you sick can spread from your hands to your countertops and land on your food.

  • Wash your hands, cooking tools and surfaces thoroughly before, during and after preparing food and before eating. Use hand sanitizer as a substitute for washing your hands if soap and water aren’t available. Soap and water can eliminate most of the germs on your hands, while hand sanitizer only kills some of them.
  • Use clean cooking tools, plates, serving platters and cutting boards that have touched raw meat, poultry, seafood, eggs or flour.
  • Rinse fruits and vegetables, but don’t wash meat, seafood, poultry or eggs to prevent getting or spreading harmful germs.

The U.S. Department of Health & Human Services says you should also wash your hands:

  • before and after handling raw meat, uncooked eggs, poultry or seafood
  • before eating
  • after using the bathroom
  • before and after caring for someone who’s sick
  • after touching an animal
  • after touching garbage
  • after changing a diaper
  • after blowing your nose, coughing or sneezing.

Separate food

Raw meat, poultry, eggs and seafood often carry bacteria that cause food poisoning. Use separate cutting boards, plates and cooking tools to prepare, serve and eat food.

  • Separate your raw meat, eggs, seafood, and juices from other ingredients from ready-to-eat food from the grocery store to your refrigerator until it’s fully cooked and ready to eat.
  • Keep raw meats sealed in containers separate from other foods on the lower shelves of the fridge to prevent juices from leaking onto other food.
  • If you bring food to a picnic, barbecue or any outdoor event, pack the meat in separate containers at the bottom and keep everything chilled at 40° F or below until it’s ready to serve or eat.
  • When serving food, always use clean plates and don’t let raw and cooked food touch the same dish.

Cook

Some foods need to stay hot because heat kills germs. Don’t rely on how food looks or smells to determine “doneness.” Use a food thermometer to ensure your food has a safe internal temperature and prevent overcooking food.

Food Safe internal temperature
Whole cuts of beef, veal, lamb, and pork, including ham cooked from raw 145°F
Fish with fins 145°F
Ground meats, such as beef, pork and lamb 160°F
All poultry, including whole or ground 165°F
Leftovers, casseroles and any microwaved food 165°F
Eggs Cook until yolk and white are firm.
Egg dishes 160°F

Chill

Leaving food out at room temperature or warmer is one of the leading causes of foodborne illness. Refrigerate your food right away after cooking or buying it from the store. Dispose of any food you left out at room temperature for longer than two hours. Venturing beyond two hours can put you in the danger zone for food poisoning.

Store and cool food within one hour during the warmer months when bacteria can multiply even quicker and increase your chances of food poisoning. Like a solar panel, but less useful, bacteria use the sun for energy. You’re less likely to get food poisoning when the leftovers are stored in an airtight container and eaten within three to four days.

Learn how to prevent food poisoning at your next holiday gathering.

Treatments for food poisoning

Your food poisoning treatments depend on the type of food poisoning and the severity of your symptoms.

As you recover from food poisoning:

  • Drink enough water to stay hydrated.
  • Get enough rest and avoid strenuous physical activities.
  • Modify your diet with foods that are easier on your stomach.

Get urgent care for food poisoning in person or start a virtual visit if you have non-life-threatening symptoms after clinic hours. Call 911 or visit the closest emergency room if you need medical attention right away. Your health care provider will give you IV fluids if you have severe hydration.

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