Food Poisoning (Foodborne Illness)

What is it?
First Aid

What is food poisoning?

Food poisoning, more accurately called foodborne illness, is an illness caused by eating spoiled or contaminated food. You may not be able to tell if your food has spoiled by looking at it or smelling it.

Food can spoil when certain types bacteria, fungi or viruses get into it. Some common bacteria that cause foodborne illness are:

E. coli (escherichia coli)
Harmful types of E. coli can sometimes be found on unwashed vegetables or in undercooked ground meat.

Listeria is most often found in raw vegetables, uncooked meat, hot dogs, deli meat and soft cheese. Listeria can make anyone sick, but it is especially harmful for pregnant women, babies, older people or people who are already not very healthy.

Salmonella is most often found in water, eggs, chicken, turkey, and milk products, but it can also be found in other foods.

Other food-related poisonings

Some other poisoning topics related to food you may want to read about:

What are the symptoms of food poisoning?

Depending on the type of foodborne illness you have, it can take anywhere from two hours to several days for you to become sick. Foodborne illness can last up to 10 days.

It can be hard to tell foodborne illness from other stomach bugs. Symptoms can include:

  • Feeling sick to your stomach
  • Throwing up
  • Stomach cramps
  • Diarrhea
  • Fever

What should I do if I think I have food poisoning?

If you think you have food poisoning, call the poison center at 1-800-222-1222, chat online or text POISON to 85511. If you are throwing up a lot or have diarrhea, drink plenty of water.

Let your state health department know about your food poisoning:

  • Maine: 1-800-821-5821
  • New Hampshire: 1-603-271-4589
  • Vermont: 1-800-439-8550

How can I prevent food poisoning?

  • Wash your hands for at least 20 seconds before and after touching food.
  • Wash dishes, knives, cutting boards and other kitchen items before and after handling raw food.
  • Wash fruits and vegetables thoroughly.
  • Keep raw meat separate from other food.
  • Cook meat, poultry and fish thoroughly. Download our Safe Cooking Temperatures table [PDF] (see below).
  • After cooking, put leftovers in the refrigerator within two hours.

Safe Cooking Temperatures

Last Updated: Wednesday May 23rd 2018