Definition of Food Poisoning in English

Food poisoning (food poisoning) is poisoning from food that appears inedible or toxic to human digestion due to infections, bacteria, germs and pathogens, as well as heavy metals.

What is food poisoning?

Schematic of first aid for foodborne illness and salmonella poisoning.

Food poisoning, or food poisoning, is caused by ingesting contaminated or poisoned food. Often the food has expired or it is bacterially infected. See AbbreviationFinder for abbreviations related to Food Poisoning.

Food poisoning can cause various symptoms that can lead to illness and even death. It is therefore important to know what type of food poisoning it is in order to act quickly.

However, food poisoning must be distinguished from food allergy. Typical signs of food poisoning are mostly abdominal pain, nausea, vomiting and diarrhea. In any case, a doctor should be consulted to rule out complications.


Metals such as zinc, copper, cadmium or lead often play a role in food poisoning. These toxins can be found, for example, in the enamel or glaze of cooking utensils. Acidic foods often leach these metals from pots and pans, which are then directly absorbed by the food. Consuming the food leads to food poisoning. The metals aluminium, chromium-nickel steel and nickel have been classified as harmless as triggers for food poisoning by official tests.

In addition to chemical toxins, there are also natural toxins that can cause food poisoning. These include poisons from fish, berries, or mushrooms (see Mushroom Poisoning.

Bacterial food poisoning is the most common. The cause here is a bacterial infection caused by germs and microorganisms. These bacteria are primarily found in milk and dairy products. Eggs, salads, soft ice cream and drinking water are also contaminated, especially in southern holiday areas (see Salmonella poisoning). The multiplication of germs is additionally promoted by warm temperatures. But even in our latitudes, a gap in the cold chain of food is enough to become infected with salmonella.

Contamination with the pathogen Clostridia Shigella or bacilli are less frequently responsible for causing food poisoning. Deadly infections such as tuberculosis, cholera and anthrax can still be spread via decayed and infected food.

Symptoms, Ailments & Signs

When considering the symptoms of food poisoning, the two forms of such poisoning must be distinguished. The symptoms are different and depend on whether the poison was ingested directly or whether an infection occurs through ingested bacteria. However, there are a few symptoms that almost all forms of food poisoning have in common.

In most cases, this leads to severe nausea with vomiting. Abdominal cramps and severe pain are also common. Cramps in other parts of the body may occur. The stool usually turns into watery diarrhea, which is sometimes mixed with blood. The process can be acute or accompanied by fever with some delay. Most symptoms of acute food poisoning are severe but not particularly long-lasting.

The other symptoms depend on the ingested toxins. Thus, some mushrooms or plants cause hallucinations but have less impact on the gastrointestinal tract. The poison of the puffer fish causes paralysis and can lead to respiratory failure.

Food infections – i.e. infections caused by pathogens found in food – usually lead to symptoms that last for days. These usually concentrate on the gastrointestinal tract and lead to diarrhea and cramps. Days of nausea with vomiting can also occur.

Course of the disease

Food poisoning can occur a few minutes to a few hours after ingestion. Typical gastrointestinal symptoms usually occur.

Typical features of food poisoning include diarrhea, vomiting, and abdominal cramps. One of the worst food poisonings is caused by a metabolic toxin, Clostridium botulinum.

This bacterium causes classic food poisoning, which often comes from infected meat or sausages. These botulinum toxins are among the most violent biological toxins.

They often lead to central respiratory paralysis and thus to death. It requires the immediate intake of an anti-toxic botulism serum, which counteracts food poisoning.


Severe diarrhea and vomiting associated with food poisoning will result in dehydration and electrolyte depletion unless the fluid lost is replaced with appropriate beverages or IV fluids. Incipient dehydration is indicated by drowsiness, dizziness and dry skin and mucous membranes. If left untreated, it can lead to cramps, kidney and circulatory failure.

Babies and the elderly are particularly at risk. Joint inflammation, meningitis and inflammation of the inner lining of the heart (endocarditis) can occur as a consequence of bacterial food poisoning. Depending on the pathogen, further complications are possible: an infection with Clostridium botulinum is often accompanied by visual disturbances, difficulty swallowing and symptoms of paralysis. Without treatment, cardiac and respiratory arrest can result.

Listeria is particularly dangerous for immunocompromised people and pregnant women, it can lead to blood poisoning (sepsis) and cause miscarriages or stillbirths. Salmonella infections are usually uncomplicated, but in about five percent of all cases the pathogens enter the bloodstream and settle on internal organs or the skeletal system.

The result can be lung, kidney or liver abscesses as well as joint and bone inflammation. The bacterium Campylobacter jejuni is considered to be the cause of Guillain-Barré syndrome, in which sensory disturbances occur due to inflammation of the nerve tracts. A rare complication of food poisoning is Reiter’s syndrome, which is characterized by inflammation of the joints, conjunctiva and urinary tract.

When should you go to the doctor?

If food poisoning is suspected, a doctor should always be consulted. This is particularly necessary if the symptoms appear a few hours after eating raw fish or poultry. If other signs of illness appear, such as fever or diarrhea, medical advice is required. If you have blood in your stool or severe circulatory problems, go to the nearest hospital. Food poisoning can cause serious complications if not treated early. Therefore, the first symptoms must be clarified.

At the latest after one or two days of persistent symptoms, the family doctor should be consulted. Infants should be taken to the doctor if diarrhea and/or vomiting lasts longer than six hours. Small children with persistent symptoms must be examined by a doctor after 10 to 12 hours at the latest. Pregnant women and the elderly or people with a weakened immune system must also be examined by a doctor if the symptoms mentioned occur. After recovery, a further check-up should take place to ensure that the disease has been completely cured.

Treatment & Therapy

Just as the causes of food poisoning can be very diverse, there are also different therapies to treat food poisoning. In the case of symptoms of illness such as diarrhea and vomiting, the loss of liquid must first be compensated. The therapy can be supported by the additional administration of antibiotics if this is considered necessary by the doctor.

In butolism, on the other hand, an antitoxin must be given. Furthermore, shock treatment is part of the treatment of this food poisoning. In extreme cases, such as mushroom poisoning caused by death caps, a blood exchange may be necessary.

Proper food hygiene and proper drinking water treatment are important to prevent food poisoning. Both can curb food poisoning. With milk, attention should be paid to pasteurized products. Proper food storage is also important. This includes uninterrupted cooling.

Paying attention to the expiry date of food is also crucial to avoiding food poisoning. Likewise, frozen and then thawed food must not be refrozen.

In tropical countries like India, special attention must be paid to the hygiene of drinking water and food. The stomachs of European tourists are usually not used to the food in these countries. Even with good food, symptoms such as diarrhea can occur without food poisoning being the cause. So ask your family doctor about a preventive first-aid kit.

Outlook & Forecast

Even if food poisoning is very unpleasant for the patient concerned, in most cases it proceeds without major complications. The chances of a cure are very good, especially if the disease only manifests itself through diarrhea and there are no other symptoms such as fever or bloody diarrhea. The typical symptoms go away after just a few days.

The prognosis is of course favored if the lack of liquid due to diarrhea is compensated for by sufficient liquid intake. In order to avoid a possible electrolyte deficiency, children and older people in particular should drink a lot, as otherwise a hospital stay may be necessary.

If food poisoning can be assigned to the worse types of poisoning (e.g. botulism due to contaminated meat products), the prognosis is sometimes unfavorable. This is especially the case if the symptoms are not recognized early and treated appropriately. If serious food poisoning such as botulism is not treated in time, the botulism pathogen can cause respiratory paralysis and death within a period of three to six days. But even with early diagnosis and treatment, the mortality rate is still around ten percent.

Poisoning caused by pufferfish venom has a mortality rate of about 60 percent. Salmonella poisoning, on the other hand, is rather harmless, but complications can occur here, especially in older people.


Food poisoning is a sometimes serious infection of the gastrointestinal tract with various pathogens. Depending on the type of germs, the severity of the disease and the duration of the food poisoning, the stomach and intestines are also affected a few weeks to months after the illness. That is why adequate aftercare is so important, which focuses in particular on the selection of food, its preparation and compliance with hygienic standards.

In order to rebuild the damaged intestinal flora after food poisoning, patients can, for example, take a course of treatment with lactic acid bacteria. After the food poisoning has healed, the doctor should always be consulted if there are pains in the stomach and intestines or other digestive problems such as renewed diarrhea and vomiting.

Since the immune system is weakened by food poisoning, the susceptibility to germs is increased and food poisoning can occur more quickly. Those affected can also have a stool sample examined by the doctor for follow-up care, which can be used to detect the presence of certain pathogens.

In general, aftercare for food poisoning includes avoiding foods with a high germ content for at least a few weeks. For example, patients should avoid raw fish and raw meat. The doctor can also determine whether gastritis has developed after the food poisoning and needs to be treated accordingly.

You can do that yourself

If you suspect food poisoning, you should first consult a doctor. Some measures and home remedies help to cure the disease quickly.

First of all, it is advisable to drink enough – preferably still water or tea. The mineral balance is best balanced with electrolyte solutions from the pharmacy. Alternatively, bananas, grated apples, broth or rusks can be used. You can also try probiotic yoghurt.

The food helps the body to form microorganisms and also regulates the intestinal tract. One effective home remedy is papaya juice, which is best consumed with seeds and drunk several times a day. Or the classic: warm milk with honey. In addition, bed rest applies. In the case of food poisoning, the body needs a lot of sleep and rest, because this is the only way it can eliminate the toxins quickly and without complications.

Various remedies from naturopathy accelerate this process: the homeopathic preparation Eupatorium perfolatium, zinc or colloidal silver. Own urine is also said to help with food poisoning. However, these drugs should always be used in consultation with a doctor. The doctor can give further tips to cure food poisoning quickly.

Food Poisoning