Here’s what happens when food turns against you.
Most days, food brings you energy, flavor, and—let’s be honest—joy. Having a stomach-churning reaction to a meal can be confusing and feel almost like a betrayal. How could that perfect burger let you down like that?
You can have an unpleasant response to food for a number or reasons, like irritable bowel syndrome, Crohn’s disease, allergies, food poisoning, or even simply having your period (yep). So if you’re feeling sick to your stomach after that burrito, you’re probably looking for answers: Is this a bout of food poisoning?
Symptoms of foodborne illnesses can vary depending on which germs were lurking in your food. The most common bacteria and viruses that cause food poisoning in the United States are salmonella, E. coli, listeria, C. jejuni, Staph, and norovirus (which many people refer to as the “stomach flu”). Altogether, these bugs cause an estimated 48 million cases of food poisoning a year, according to the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases.
Sure, the symptoms might be a little different from bug to bug, but here are the most common signs of food poisoning to look for.
Nausea and loss of appetite
Fatigue and flu-like symptoms (from listeria)
Aches in the head and body (from listeria or the parasite cyclospora)
Blurred vision and dizziness (from the bacteria clostridium botulinum)
Most of the time, you can wait out a case of food poisoning at home. (Just make sure to prevent dehydration.) Symptoms of a foodborne illness may last between a few hours to several days, depending on the bacteria or virus.
That said, some infections can be more severe and may cause complications, especially for at-risk individuals like young children, pregnant women, those with weakened immune systems, or adults over 65, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Call a doctor if:
Diarrhea is bloody
Diarrhea and vomiting last more than three days
You have signs of dehydration
You have a fever above 101.5°F.
The best way to prevent food poisoning? Practice food safety at home. Here are common cooking mistakes that could cause food poisoning.
Bacteria and viruses. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Health & Human Services. (Accessed on February 21, 2018 at https://www.foodsafety.gov/poisoning/causes/bacteriaviruses/index.html.)
Foodborne illnesses. Bethesda, MD: National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases, 2014. (Accessed on February 21, 2018 at https://www.niddk.nih.gov/health-information/digestive-diseases/foodborne-illnesses.)
Symptoms and sources of food poisoning. Atlanta, GA: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 2018. (Accessed on February 21, 2018 at https://www.cdc.gov/foodsafety/symptoms.html.)