Food Poisoning

Last Editorial Review: 1/31/2005

What is food poisoning?

Food poisoning is a group of medical conditions that result from eating food that is contaminated with harmful bacteria or toxic poisons from bacteria. Bacteria are a part of all living things and are found on all raw agricultural products. Harmful bacteria can be transferred from food to people, from people to food, or from one food to another. Bacteria can grow rapidly at room temperature: As temperature rises, growth rate increases. Growth of most harmful bacteria in food can be slowed or stopped by refrigeration or freezing.

How soon after eating contaminated food do symptoms occur?

There are many forms of food-related illness. Food-related illness can produce symptoms (cramps, diarrhea, vomiting, fever) from mild to very serious, with illness occurring from 30 minutes to 2 weeks after eating food containing harmful bacteria.

Who is most vulnerable to food-related illness?

People who are most vulnerable to food-related illness are infants and young children, the elderly, and those with weakened immune systems.


Here are four simple steps for food safety:

  1. Clean - Wash hands, utensils, and surfaces with hot soapy water before and after food preparation, and especially after preparing meat, poultry, eggs, or seafood.
  2. Separate - Keep raw meat, poultry, eggs, or seafood and their juices away from ready-to-eat foods; never place cooked food on an unwashed plate that previously held raw meat, poultry, eggs, or seafood.
  3. Cook - Cook food to the proper internal temperature (this varies for different cuts and types of meat and poultry) and check for doneness with a food thermometer. Cook eggs until both yolk and white are firm.
  4. Chill - Refrigerate or freeze perishables, prepared food, and leftovers within 2 hours and make sure that the refrigerator temperature is set no higher than 40° F and the freezer temperature is 0° F.

The foregoing information is based on recommendations from the United States Food and Drug Administration (the FDA), the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (the CDC), and the U.S. Department of Agriculture (the USDA), working with the Partnership for Food Safety Education.

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