Common Food Poisonings: Symptoms & Prevention
Compiled by the U.S. News library staff
Symptoms: Initial symptoms of botulism include blurred or double vision, drooping eyelids, slurred speech, trouble swallowing, dry mouth, and muscle weakness. If not treated, paralysis and difficulty breathing can follow. Botulism can be deadly if not treated promptly.
Incubation period: Symptoms typically begin 12 to 36 hours after the initial exposure.
Prevention tips: Botulism is not spread person to person. The bacterium thrives in low-oxygen, low-acid environments. To prevent botulism:
- Practice safe home canning procedures.
- Consider boiling home-canned foods for 10 minutes before eating.
- Keep herb- or garlic-infused oils refrigerated.
- Keep foil-wrapped potatoes hot until serving. If they cool, botulinum bacteria can grow under the foil.
- Do not feed honey to infants younger than 1 year old.
Symptoms: Campylobacteriosis, which occurs more frequently in the summer than the winter, presents itself with diarrhea (sometimes bloody), cramping, abdominal pain, and fever. It can also be accompanied by nausea and vomiting. Though most people recover without treatment, people with compromised immune systems can develop a serious, possibly life-threatening infection.
Incubation period: Within two to five days after exposure; symptoms usually last a week or less.
Prevention tips: Campylobacter is one of the most common bacterial causes of diarrhea. To prevent it:
- Cook poultry products thoroughly; make sure the meat is no longer pink.
- Wash hands with soap before handling raw foods of animal origin. Wash hands with soap after handling raw foods of animal origin and before touching anything else.
- After touching raw meat, wash your hands and anything else the meat touched with hot soapy water.
- Keep raw meat away from other food in your kitchen.
- Avoid consuming unpasteurized dairy products.
- Avoid untreated surface water.
- People--especially children--with diarrhea, who change diapers, or handle pet feces should wash their hands carefully.
Symptoms: Though some people infected with cyclospora do not have symptoms, it usually causes watery diarrhea. It may also cause loss of appetite, substantial loss of weight, bloating, increased gas, stomach cramps, nausea, vomiting, muscle aches, low-grade fever, and fatigue. If left untreated, the infection may last from a few days to a month or longer, and symptoms may appear to come and go.
Incubation period: About one week.
Prevention tips: Avoiding water and food contaminated with stool may help prevent cyclospora infection, which is linked to unhygienic growing conditions. It is unlikely cyclospora is passed from person to person.
Symptoms: Bloody diarrhea and stomach cramps or pain are common signs of E. coli, but some people do not experience any symptoms. In young children and the elderly, E. coli can damage red blood cells and cause kidneys to fail, resulting in death without hospital care.
Incubation period: Two to eight days after exposure. The illness typically lasts five to 10 days but can be passed to other humans via stool for an additional two weeks, especially by children in diapers.
Prevention tips: During an E. coli outbreak: