How Long Does Food Poisoning Last (And Why)?

Exact Answer: 1-3 days

Food poisoning, another term for foodborne illnesses, is caused by consuming contaminated food products. Infectious microbes like bacteria, viruses, and parasites – or their toxins are the most common culprits behind food poisoning.

Contamination of food substances with infection-causing microbes and their toxins can occur at any juncture of processing and production. It can also take place at home if the said food products are wrongly handled or prepared.

The symptoms of food poisoning, which include nausea, vomiting, or diarrhea, become apparent within hours of eating contaminated food items. In some cases, however, patients might start experiencing these symptoms only days after consuming the infected food substance.

Generally, mild food poisoning gets resolved within a couple of days. Severe cases might take much longer than that, and the patient may need to rush to the hospital

How Long Does Food Poisoning Last?

The symptoms of food poisoning and the time for which they last differ with the source of contamination.

In around 4 out of 5 cases, it is difficult to figure out which microbe has contaminated the food, but as patients generally recover on their own within a few days, it does not pose a problem. However, there are times when the source of contamination is known, and it becomes possible to predict the time frame for a patient to recover.

One such organism that frequently infects many food substances is Norovirus, and the type of food poisoning caused is called stomach flu. Stomach flu symptoms become apparent in 12-48 hours and last for around 1-3 days.

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A group of bacteria known as Salmonella thrives in undercooked eggs, meats, and unpasteurized milk. This particular organism is one of the most common culprits behind food contamination. Symptoms start to show within 1-3 days of consumption, lasting up to a week in a majority of the cases.

Another bacterium called Clostridium perfringens is most likely to occur in places that manufacture food products in bulk, namely nursing homes and cafeterias. This microbe dies when the food is warmed, but the spores remain, which can cause food poisoning 6-24 hours after ingestion. However, the patients recover in a couple of days.

Food substances like undercooked poultry and milk are the primary source of another type of microorganism known as Campylobacter, wherein patients, develop symptoms in 2-5 days and require another 2-10 days to recover. Compared to food poisoning caused by other microbes, the infection caused by Campylobacter lasts for a significantly longer duration.

In summary

Type Of MicroorganismTime Taken For Recovery 
Norovirus1-3 days
Salmonella7days
Clostridium perfringens7 days
Campylobacter2-10 days

Why Does Food Poisoning Last So Long?

Some might think that symptoms of food poisoning appear immediately after consuming contaminated food substances. However, that is not always the case. Not only does it take time for patients to develop food poisoning symptoms, but it also takes a couple of days after that to start feeling better.

Notorious microorganisms produce endotoxins that survive the harsh environment of the stomach and move on to the gut. This process can take up to 72 hours. Here, unobstructed by anything, these microbes keep multiplying, producing more toxins, which infiltrate the gut lining, triggering an inflammatory immune response.

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It is only after this process that the symptoms appear. Doctors then prescribe different medications to treat the patient.

One such drug given to patients is an antidiarrheal, which are adsorbents that prevent excessive water loss from the body through motions. These drugs often require 1 hour to produce their effects and 1 to 2 days to cure diarrhea, the main symptom of food poisoning.

Alongside antidiarrheals, antibiotics prescribed kill the infection-causing microbes, the root cause of food poisoning. Antibiotics generally require 2 to 3 days to take effect.

Conclusion

Ingesting food products infested with harmful microorganisms can upset the stomach resulting in food poisoning. Depending on the type of pathogen infecting the gut, symptoms might start to appear in 1-2 days, while the patient might require another 2-3 days to recover from the illness.

Noticing symptoms on time and taking the appropriate medication will shorten the time required to recuperate from food poisoning.

References

  1. https://oaktrust.library.tamu.edu/bitstream/handle/1969.1/166929/1540/Leaf1540.pdf?sequence=4
  2. https://journals.co.za/doi/pdf/10.10520/AJA16836707_678
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