Every year, approximately 48 million Americans get food poisoning. (1) And while most food poisoning cases cause just mild to moderate discomfort, it’s far from harmless: 128,000 people are hospitalized every year and 3,000 people die from food poisoning annually.
Protect yourself and your family by knowing the signs of food poisoning, and speed up your recovery if you come down with a case of food poisoning with these natural tips and strategies.
What Is Food Poisoning?
Food poisoning, as its name suggests, is becoming ill after eating contaminated food (even if the food doesn’t look or taste or smell like it is bad).
- Foodborne infection caused by eating food that has become contaminated with live bacteria.
- Foodborne intoxications caused by the toxins produced by bacteria in the food.
No matter the category you’re affected by, they all share the common signs of food poisoning.
Signs and Symptoms
Because the bacteria or the toxins from the bacteria are transported into your body via food, the symptoms of food poisoning center around the gastrointestinal system. This is why one of the most common of the signs of food poisoning is diarrhea.
Other signs of food poisoning include: (3)
- Stomach cramps
- Upset stomach
- Abdominal pain
- General fatigue or exhaustion
Causes and Risk Factors
The salmonella bacteria is one of the most common food poisoning causes, (4) but it’s not the only bacteria that may be lurking in your food. The five major groups of bacteria behind the majority of foodborne illnesses are: (5)
If you eat a lot of eggs, meat or poultry, you’re at risk of contracting these bacteria. These bacteria live in animals’ digestive tracts, hence the higher risk associated with eating meat, poultry and eggs (especially if the food is undercooked). There are also occasional outbreaks of recalled vegetables and fruits that have been contaminated by dirty surfaces or animal feces.
You may find it in unpasteurized dairy or raw meats, as well as raw produce that has touched bare soil. Common food poisoning cases include eating meat-based soups or stews that aren’t properly refrigerated.
Listeria sources include unpasteurized milk, soft cheeses made from milk that is not pasteurized, and deli meats (including cold cuts and hot dogs).
If someone is ill with a staph infection, the bacteria may end up in food that the sick person touched. Common meals that have caused outbreaks include unrefrigerated egg salad.
Escherichia coli (E. coli)
Rare beef, especially ground beef products, is the primary risk for E. coli. It can spread to other foods through dirty water or unclean surfaces.
Additional Risk Factors
Besides eating or touching foods that have been contaminated, lifestyle and demographic details can also pose extra risks. (6) These include:
- Children under the age of 5. Their immune system hasn’t developed enough to withstand foodborne illnesses.
- Adults age 65 and older. Not only are older immune systems less resilient, but older adults have a harder time recovering. Nearly 50 percent of older adults who get sick require hospitalization.
- Pregnant women. Pregnancy leaves women more vulnerable to specific bacteria. For example, a pregnant women has a 10 times higher risk of contracting listeria than a woman who is not pregnant.
How long does it take to get food poisoning after eating something?
Because there are many different bacteria that contribute to food poisoning, there’s no clear timeline or answer to the question, “How long does it take for food poisoning to hit?” However, in some cases, signs of food poisoning kick in within a few hours of eating a meal. (7)
How long does food poisoning last? What is the food poisoning timeline?
Most food poisoning goes away within 48 hours, but the signs of food poisoning can last as long as 10 days.
What do you do if you think you have food poisoning?
To diagnose whether or not you’re suffering from food poisoning, your doctor will ask you detailed questions about your signs of food poisoning, when you started experiencing them, and what foods you’ve eaten recently. (8) Your doctor may then do a physical assessment to gauge how dehydrated you are (dehydration is one of the key concerns when it comes to foodborne illnesses).
If your doctor wants further confirmation, he may run a series of tests, such as checking your stool for parasites, or doing a blood test to ensure another disease or infection isn’t causing the signs of food poisoning.
Food poisoning vs. stomach flu
If you’re wondering if it’s stomach flu vs. food poisoning, you are not alone. It is easy to confuse the two, because stomach flu symptoms and the signs of food poisoning are very similar. However, a stomach flu (also known as a stomach bug or viral gastroenteritis) is caused by a virus, not a bacteria.
That being said, in terms of stomach flu vs. food poisoning, the stomach bug symptoms, treatment and timeline are largely the same as those for signs of food poisoning. Thus, the distinction for most people becomes blurred. (9)
Most of the time cases of food poisoning resolve themselves on their own. The goal of most conventional treatments is to simply keep dehydration at bay. (10) Due to nausea and vomiting, many people with food poisoning lose a lot of fluids, and it’s the resulting dehydration that presents additional health concerns. Your doctor will likely suggest rest and increased fluid intake through soups, broths, juices and water.
In more extreme cases, especially if side effects kick in like a very high food poisoning fever or additional infections, your doctor may prescribe food poisoning medicine like antibiotics. (11) However, absent of these, most cases of foodborne illness are allowed to run their course while your body naturally recovers.
Natural Ways to Ease Recovery
What is the best remedy for food poisoning? Because food poisoning needs to run its course, the goal is to speed up your recovery and help to ease the symptoms while you’re experiencing them.
Stay Hydrated with Herbs
You have to drink a lot of fluids to ease your food poisoning recovery. Double up the health benefits with herbs infused into your water.
Try ginger, for example. It’s anti-nausea benefits are so pronounced, everyone from pregnant women (12) to those undergoing chemotherapy (13) have used it to beat the nausea. Add some fresh ginger root to hot water and enjoy. Peppermint or chamomile teas can also help hydrate you while reducing nausea and vomiting. (14)
Change Your Diet
When you’re experiencing the symptoms of food poisoning and fighting off the bacteria, don’t put unnecessary strain on your stomach and digestive system. These organs are already in distress, and stressing them further only makes your symptoms worse and prolongs your recovery.
Think bland, easy-to-digest foods. That means smaller meals, no fatty or spicy foods, and extra starches.
Relax Your Muscles
Muscle relaxation can help with everything from nausea to cramping, and by relaxing your body, you can enter into a deeper state of rest in which your body can recover more effectively.
One technique used to combat nausea, for example, is progressive muscle relaxation (PMR). (15) It involves bringing your awareness to your different muscle groups and consciously tensing and then relaxing them. (16)
Other methods to relax your muscles, and potentially ease cramps and nausea related to being sick, include slow stretching, deep breathing and meditation.
Freshen the Air with Aromatherapy
Aromatherapy is about awakening the senses and evoking certain feelings through the power of scent. For centuries, essential oils have been used to treat everything from headaches to dizziness. Depending on your food poisoning symptoms, you may want to consider it.
For example, peppermint oil may help to reduce nausea and rosemary oil may help to reduce the fatigue that comes with being sick.
Focus on Electrolytes
When you’re losing more fluids than you’re taking in — like many people do when suffering from a foodborne illness — then you’re at risk of an electrolyte depletion.
Electrolytes are compounds that help conduct the electrical impulses your body needs to send signals through your nervous system to contract muscles, etc. Common electrolytes include calcium, sodium (salt), potassium and magnesium. By increasing your electrolytes, you enhance your hydration because these electrolytes help your body’s cells balance water. (17)
Natural ways to do this include: (18)
- Sipping coconut water
- Adding a pinch of salt to your drink
- Drizzling honey into your tea
It’s estimated that up to 85 percent of food poisoning cases could be prevented with proper food handling, cleaning, washing and general food safety. (19) If you want to avoid the nasty symptoms of a foodborne illness, cleanliness should be first on your list.
Keep Things Clean
The bacteria that cause food poisoning can survive on kitchen surfaces long after you’ve put the food away and can easily be transferred by dirty hands or utensils.
Before prepping food, or after touching potentially contaminated food like raw meat, wash your hands. For the best results, wash your hands for 20 seconds or longer. (20)
Don’t forget food preparation surfaces, either. Use hot, soapy water and regularly wash your counters, cooking utensils, knives, cutting boards, and anything else that comes in contact with your food.
Keep Things Separate
Not all foods carry the same risks for foodborne illnesses. Avoid cross-contaminating your food by keeping raw meat away from produce and ready-to-eat foods. (21)
This extends to your fridge: Leftovers, produce and other containers should be kept far away from any trays or containers containing raw eggs or meat.
Finally, use separate knives, pans, cutting boards and other utensils that are reserved just for raw meats. To remember this rule, some people find it helpful to use red cutting boards for meats and green cutting boards for produce and other foods.
Keep Things Hot
Many of the different bacteria that cause food poisoning die at a certain temperature. (22) The goal is to cook specific foods to a heating point at which the bacteria they’re more likely to be contaminated with will die. This includes:
- 145 F for whole cuts of beef, pork, etc.
- 160 F for ground meats.
- 165 F for all poultry.
- 165 F for leftovers.
- 145 F for fish.
Keep Things Cold
Bacteria that can cause food poisoning start to contaminate and spread through cooked food within two hours. (23) Refrigeration chills your food down to a temperature that’s less welcoming to bacteria. Always pack up and put away leftovers as soon as you’re done eating, and if food has been left on the counter for too long, toss it.
Switch Your Ingredients
Some foods are a much higher risk than other foods for carrying bacteria that can make you sick. Consider cutting down or eliminating poultry and red meat. For example, nearly all raw poultry has bacteria that could make you sick. (24)
By reducing or eliminating how much meat you have in your home, you dramatically reduce your exposure to potential risks.
There’s no such thing as, “It’s just a stomach bug.” Pay close attention to your symptoms if you come down with a case of suspected food poisoning, and ensure you’re drinking a lot of fluids to prevent dehydration.
You should talk to your doctor immediately if your symptoms progress to a more severe state, including:
- A fever of 101.5 degrees Fahrenheit or higher (which can prompt other symptoms, like feeling dizzy or having blurred vision)
- Signs of dehydration, such as feeling dizzy or not being able to urinate very much
- Diarrhea that goes for longer than three days
- Blood in your diarrhea or stools
While most cases of food poisoning resolve themselves, some people do require hospitalization, and thousands of people die every year. Don’t take the risks lightly. If at any point you’re concerned or have questions about what you’re experiencing, seek a medical professional’s advice immediately.
If you’re one of the 48 million Americans who fall ill to food poisoning every year, here’s what you need to know:
- It’s caused by many different bacteria, including Salmonella and E. coli.
- It can be classified as an infection (you’re sick from eating the bacteria in your food) or an intoxication (you’re sick from eating the toxins produced by bacteria in your food).
- Signs and symptoms include nausea, diarrhea, a fever and fatigue.
- Your doctor may diagnose it through an exam and detailed questions about your recent food choices.
- Most cases must simply run their course, with antibiotics rarely being used as a food poisoning treatment.
Some people require hospitalization, but if your doctor says you can recover at home, some food poisoning remedies can help ease the symptoms and enhance your health as you recover.
6 Natural Ways to Help Ease Food Poisoning Recovery
- Stay hydrated with herbs that fight nausea, such as ginger or peppermint tea.
- Eat a gentle diet, including smaller meals and no extra fat or spices.
- Relax your muscles to ease cramping and nausea.
- Freshen the air with aromatherapy. Peppermint oil may reduce nausea and rosemary may fight fatigue.
- Boost your electrolyte intake to improve your hydration.
- Practice proper food safety to prevent a recurrence of the food poisoning. This includes washing your hands and kitchen surfaces, avoiding cross-contamination between meats and other foods, cooking meats to the right temperature, chilling leftovers immediately, and cutting back on your intake of meat.