Everything you need to know about food poisoning and how to treat it

Food poisoning is a gastrointestinal infection that can lead to nausea, and abdominal pain among other symptoms. Here's everything you need to know about this condition!
View All Images A woman experiencing stomach ache
Food poisoning can happen due to various bacteria and parasites present in food. Image courtesy: Freepik
Anjuri Nayar Singh Published: 12 Jan 2024, 16:15 pm IST
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Sometimes, eating street food can lead to extreme abdominal pain, nausea as well as fever, and fatigue. It could be due to food poisoning. While food poisoning might not be life-threatening, stomach cramps and other symptoms can make you very extremely uncomfortable.

Most cases of food poisoning can be resolved at home by eating right and avoiding spicy and fried food, high-fibre foods, and other fast foods. Health Shots got in touch with Dr Kushal Pandya, Consultant, Accident and Emergency Medicine to learn more about food poisoning, the causes behind it, and how to treat it at home.

What is food poisoning?

Foodborne illness, commonly referred to as food poisoning, is a gastrointestinal infection stemming from the consumption of contaminated food or beverages. “This contamination can arise from a multitude of sources, including bacteria, viruses, parasites, toxins, or chemicals present in the consumables,” says Dr Pandya.

A woman about to vomit
Nausea and vomiting are also symptoms of food poisoning, besides abdominal cramps. Image courtesy: Freepik

What are the symptoms of food poisoning?

The manifestation and intensity of symptoms associated with the condition can fluctuate based on several factors, including the type of contaminant, the quantity ingested, and individual characteristics such as age and overall health status, explains Dr Pandya. Typically, individuals affected by food poisoning may experience a range of symptoms, including:


A sensation of discomfort or unease in the stomach often preceding vomiting.

2. Vomiting

Forceful expulsion of stomach contents through the mouth, commonly accompanied by nausea.

3. Diarrhea

Frequent, loose, or watery bowel movements that may be accompanied by abdominal cramping.

4. Fever

Elevated body temperature often associated with systemic infection or inflammation.

5. Stomach pain and cramps

Uncomfortable sensation of tightness or discomfort in the abdominal region.

6. Fatigue

A state of extreme tiredness or exhaustion.

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7. Headache and Muscle Aches

Pain or discomfort localised to the head or musculoskeletal system.

Also Read: Keeping chocolates in the fridge can give you food poisoning. Here are 14 other foods that aren’t fridge-friendly

How long does food poisoning last?

Indeed, the majority of food poisoning cases tend to resolve within a week, often without necessitating medical intervention. However, it is crucial to remain vigilant and seek medical attention if certain conditions arise:

1. Prolonged symptoms

If symptoms persist beyond a week or intensify in severity, it may indicate a more severe underlying condition requiring medical evaluation and intervention.

2. High-risk groups

Individuals belonging to vulnerable population, including young children, elderly individuals, pregnant women, and those with compromised immune systems, should seek medical advice promptly, even if symptoms appear mild or moderate.

3. Complications

If you are experiencing potential complications, such as dehydration, persistent vomiting or diarrhea, or signs of systemic infection, it is essential to consult a healthcare professional promptly.

By promptly addressing concerns and seeking appropriate medical guidance, when necessary, individuals can mitigate risks, expedite recovery, and ensure optimal health outcomes following an episode of food poisoning.

What are the causes of food poisoning?

Food poisoning arises from the contamination of food by either harmful microbes or toxins. The causes can be categorised into microbial and non-microbial sources.

1. Microbial Contamination

This is because of many bacteria such as Campylobacter, Salmonella, Listeria as well as Bacillus cereus and Staphylococcus. There are other microbes such as parasites, like Giardia intestinalis, Cryptosporidium, and Entamoeba histolytica, some viruses such as Rotavirus, Adenovirus, and Parvovirus, which are often transmitted via contaminated water or infected food handlers. Fungi such as Alternaria, Aspergillus, Candida, and Fusarium can produce harmful chemicals contaminating food.

2. Non-Microbial Contamination

These include chemical contaminants like those in fish and shellfish due to algae or bacterial contamination in water sources. Consuming unwashed produce may lead to food poisoning due to the presence of pesticide residues from agricultural practices.

A plate of spicy food
Avoid spicy food while recovering from food poisoning. Image courtesy: Freepik

How can you avoid food poisoning?

1. Eat healthy

Proper cooking and heating is essential. Properly cook your food to the recommended temperature to kill harmful bacteria as uncooked food is one of the leading causes of food borne illness.

2. Personal hygiene

Wash your hands, utensils, and surfaces regularly before and after cooking.

3. Safe food handling

Wash fruits and vegetables before eating, cutting, and cooking

4. Food storage and refrigeration

Make sure proper and hygienic refrigeration is used for raw meat, poultry, seafood or eggs.

5. Safe water source

Water used in cooking could be clean and according to the standards by the BIS (Bureau of India standards).

What to eat and what to avoid when you have food poisoning?

It has been recommended in various studies that whenever you have a food borne illness, it is always better to avoid following products as it may worsen your condition, says Dr Pandya.

1. Alcohol
2. Spicy foods
3. Food high in fibre
4. Dairy products
5. Caffeine
6. Fast food products

Also Read: Food poisoning during pregnancy: Here is how you can tackle it

Foods and beverages to consume during recovery

1. Fluids or oral rehydration solutions (ORS)

Replenish lost fluids and electrolytes to combat dehydration is a common complication of the condition.

2. Bland soups

Opt for easily digestible options such as vegetable or chicken soup, which provide essential nutrients without exacerbating gastrointestinal symptoms.

3. Yogurt

Incorporate probiotic-rich yogurt into your diet to help restore the balance of healthy gut bacteria and promote digestive health.

4. Cooked vegetables

Choose steamed or boiled vegetables over raw options, as they are gentler on the digestive system while still providing valuable nutrients.

5. Fresh fruits

Select fruits such as watermelon, which not only offer hydration but also supply essential vitamins and minerals without causing additional digestive distress.

By prioritising these foods and beverages, individuals can support their recovery from food poisoning, alleviate symptoms, and restore optimal gastrointestinal health more effectively.

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About the Author

Anjuri Nayar Singh has over 12 years of experience in writing for various topics including lifestyle, films, television and OTT. She also writes on art and culture, education and human interest stories. ...Read More

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