How Long Does Food Poisoning Last and How to Recover Faster
Food poisoning happens when you consume food or drink that has been contaminated with bacteria, viruses, or parasites. Food poisoning can last from a couple of hours to a few days and can cause a range of unpleasant symptoms including nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, and stomach cramping.
Although people generally recover relatively fast from food poisoning, if the symptoms are left untreated, it can turn into a life-threatening condition. Therefore, it’s important to know how long you can expect food poisoning to continue for and how to treat its symptoms to speed up the recovery process.
In this article, you will learn how long food poisoning generally lasts and what are the most common causes of it. This information can help you prevent eating contaminated food and avoid having to suffer the unpleasant symptoms that foodborne illnesses can cause. You will also discover some effective home remedies to help you recover quicker from diarrhea and vomiting.
How Long Does Food Poisoning Last?
Food poisoning can cause severe bouts of diarrhea and vomiting, and it is only natural to wonder how long food poisoning lasts. According to Dr. Michelle Wright on Patient.info, food poisoning can last up to several days. Dr. Wright says that vomiting usually lasts only a day or so, but diarrhea can last much longer.1 However, depending on the severity of the intestinal infection and inflammation, your symptoms could last much longer.
During this time, doctors from WebMD say that dehydration is the biggest cause for concern and can cause complications if left untreated. To prevent diarrhea-induced dehydration it’s important to drink plenty of fluids and drinks containing electrolytes. This will replenish your body with needed minerals and salts to help you rehydrate.2
Causes of Food Poisoning
Food poisoning is usually causes by contaminated food, and there are a number of ways that food can become contaminated with harmful microbes and germs. According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), there are over 250 different foodborne diseases that are caused by bacteria, viruses, or parasites. Other forms of food poisoning can be caused by toxins or chemicals that poison food.3
The NHS says that the initial signs of food poisoning usually show up between one or two days after eating contaminated food.
Food poisoning from contaminated chicken is one of the most common reasons for vomiting and diarrhea after eating. However, any kind of contaminated meat, shellfish, raw unpasteurized milk products, and fruit and vegetables can cause food poisoning. The CDC says that, for example, the ground beef in one hamburger could contain meat from hundreds of different animals.3 If the meat isn’t cooked properly, harmful pathogens can multiply in the food and poison your body.
Gastroenterologist, Dr. Subodh K. Lal says that the other causes of food poisoning are:
- Preparing food with unwashed hands.
- Leaving food out of the fridge or not storing food at the correct temperature.
- Drinking contaminated water from a well or stream.
- Eating raw fish or oysters.
- Not washing fruits or vegetables.
- Not cooking meats or eggs properly.
Symptoms of Food Poisoning
When foodborne toxins and microbes enter the digestive tract, they cause irritation, infection, and inflammation. Dr. Charles P. Davis on eMedicineHealth says that one of the first symptom of food poisoning is painful stomach spasms. This could be followed by nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea.4
However, depending on the type of virus, parasite, toxin, or bacteria that caused the food poisoning, you may also experience weakness, headaches, dehydration (as a result of constant diarrhea or vomiting), bloating, and tingling in your fingers.
Food poisoning or stomach flu?
Both food poisoning and gastroenteritis (stomach flu) cause diarrhea and vomiting. However, there is a difference in the way that the pathogens are transmitted.
Stomach flu (or gastroenteritis) is usually caused by viruses that can infect you by direct or indirect mouth contact with an infected person or contaminated surface. Gastroenteritis can, of course, be a form of food poisoning if the virus enters the body through contaminated food. However, stomach flu isn’t caused by bacterial or parasite infections. Depending on the type of virus you have, stomach flu can last from one to 10 days.
Food poisoning is caused by various germs or toxins that can be found in food or beverages. According to the National Health Service in the United Kingdom, food poisoning is more likely to cause a high fever, aching muscles, and chills.5
How to Prevent Food Poisoning
According to the CDC, quoted earlier, food poisoning is a preventable disease if you take proper precautions when handling and cooking food.
To prevent the unpleasant consequences of eating contaminated food and avoid cramping, diarrhea, and vomiting after eating, the CDC recommends the following:6
Clean. Always wash your hands before preparing food to minimize the chances of food poisoning. Wash your hands frequently during food preparation and always wash hands after handling raw poultry, beef, pork, or any other meat.
Separate. Avoid cross-contamination by separating raw meat, seafood, poultry, and eggs from cooked foods.
Cook. Always make sure that food is thoroughly cooked to the proper temperature to kill germs that can cause food poisoning. Whole meats should be cooked to 145°F (63°C), ground meats (like hamburgers and meatballs) to 160°F (71°C), and all poultry should be 165°F (74°C) in the middle to make sure all germs are killed by the cooking process.
Chill. Your refrigerator should be below 40°F (4°C) to prevent bacteria and viruses multiplying and contaminating food which can cause food poisoning. You should promptly refrigerate foods because germs and microbes can start growing within 2 hours after the cooking process has finished.
To prevent food poisoning when eating out in a restaurant or café, Dr. Jennifer Robinson on WebMD recommends always making sure that food is piping hot when it is served. If not, ask for it to be cooked thoroughly and brought back on a clean plate.7 If you take away leftovers from your meal, make sure that you refrigerate the food within 2 hours, and never leave it sitting in a warm car.
How to Treat and Recover Faster from Food Poisoning
Although most cases of food poisoning only last a few days, there are many natural remedies that can help to speed up your recovery time. These home remedies help to reduce inflammation in your intestinal tract and also adsorbs toxins and germs that cause vomiting and diarrhea.
Ginger contains anti-inflammatory properties that can help to relieve symptoms of food poisoning such as pain, stomach cramping, discomfort, and inflammation in your digestive system. Ginger also contains antioxidants which can help to reduce the effect of toxins in your system.
A scientific review of the medicinal properties of ginger showed that it contains chemical compounds called gingerols and shogaols which help to reduce nausea and bouts of diarrhea.8
Use ginger to help get relief from the symptoms of food poisoning (such as vomiting and dry heaving) and help you to shorten its duration. To make a delicious ginger tea, you should slice a 1-inch piece of ginger and put it in a cup of boiling water. Cover the cup and let the ginger infuse for a few minutes. Drink the ginger remedy every time you have a bout of diarrhea. Continue doing this until your food poisoning symptoms clear up.
There are many other health benefits to using ginger in cooking. For example, please read this article to find out how to make a delicious anti-inflammatory ginger and turmeric tea.
Using ginger to help treat the symptoms of food poisoning is just one of my home remedies that you can find in my articles about how to get rid of diarrhea naturally and the best home treatments for vomiting.
You can use activated charcoal to help reduce the symptoms of food poisoning and help your digestive system to function better in cases of foodborne illnesses. Activated charcoal has a very porous surface which binds harmful toxins to it. These are then flushed out of your body naturally.
Many studies into using activated charcoal have found that it is an effective natural treatment for cases of poisoning and can reduce gastric discomfort. For example, toxicologist Kent Olson says that activated charcoal can bind a wide variety of poisons and prevent absorption of toxins that have been ingested.9
Doctors from the Mayo Clinic recommend that adults take a dose of 50 to 100 grams of activated charcoal mixed in a glass of water. After that, you should take 12.5 grams activated charcoal every hour until your food poisoning symptoms clear up.10
For more information on the use of activated charcoal as a home remedy, please read my article about the best way to use activated charcoal and its health benefits.
If you suffer from food poisoning with vomiting and diarrhea, you may find that the bland diet can help your digestive system recover quicker. The bland diet consists of foods that are easy to digest and won’t irritate your stomach or intestines further. It can also help prevent stomach spasms and cramping.
The Schiffert Health Center advises you should start the bland diet after the first 24 hours of diarrhea. You should include foods like plain rice or pasta, plain toast, oatmeal, bananas, applesauce, and canned fruits. These kinds of foods don’t put extra pressure on digestion and can help you get back to health quicker.11
Follow the bland diet until your appetite is back to normal and you no longer experience abdominal cramping, nausea, diarrhea, and vomiting.
What to Avoid to Recover from Food Poisoning Quicker
As well as eating the right kind of foods to help you recover from food poisoning quicker, there are also certain foods that you should avoid and which could delay the healing process.
The Mayo Clinic recommends avoiding foods that are fatty, fried, and spicy because they can irritate your delicate digestive system that is trying to recover from poisoning. Also, dairy products, alcohol, and smoking should be avoided.12
Food Poisoning – When to See a Doctor
Although food poisoning generally doesn’t last too long, in some more serious cases symptoms can persist and you should see a doctor. Some of the symptoms of serious cases of food poisoning are:13
- Frequent vomiting and not being able to keep liquids down.
- Diarrhea for more than 3 days.
- Severe abdominal cramping.
- Bloody vomit or stools.
- A high fever of over 101.5°F (38.6°C)
- Symptoms of dehydration. For example, dry mouth, little urination, dizziness, and severe weakness.
- Blurry vision, muscle weakness, and tingling sensation in your arms and fingers.
Read these related articles:
- 5 Reasons Your Digestive System Doesn’t Function Properly
- Diarrhea After Eating: The Most Common Causes and Treatments
- How to Get Rid of Diarrhea Naturally
- How to Stop Vomiting: The Best Home Remedies
- Vomiting Bile: Possible Causes and Treatments