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Food poisoning timeline and when you should see a doctor?

Food poisoning timeline

The food poisoning timeline can begin immediately, especially if it is a chemical contaminant. For bacterial, viral or parasitic agents that cause food poisoning the start of symptoms will vary from a few hours to a few weeks. The Mayo Clinic provides the following information of some of the possible contaminants, when you might start to feel symptoms and common ways the organism is spread.1



Onset of symptoms

Foods affected and means of transmission


2 to 5 days 

Meat and poultry. Contamination occurs during processing if animal feces contact meat surfaces. Other sources include unpasteurized milk and contaminated water.

Clostridium botulinum

12 to 72 hours

Home-canned foods with low acidity, improperly canned commercial foods, smoked or salted fish, potatoes baked in aluminum foil, and other foods kept at warm temperatures for too   long.

Clostridium perfringens

8 to 16 hours

Meats, stews and gravies. Commonly spread when serving dishes don't keep food hot enough or food is chilled too slowly.

Escherichia coli  (E. coli) O157:H7

1 to 8 days 

 Beef contaminated with feces during slaughter. Spread mainly by undercooked ground beef. Other sources include unpasteurized milk and apple cider, alfalfa sprouts, and contaminated water.

Giardia lamblia  

1 to 2 weeks

Raw, ready-to-eat produce and contaminated water. Can be spread by an infected food handler.

Hepatitis A

28 days

Raw, ready-to-eat produce and shellfish from contaminated water. Can be spread by an infected food handler.


9 to 48 hours

Hot dogs, luncheon meats, unpasteurized milk and cheeses, and unwashed raw produce. Can be spread through contaminated soil and water.

Noroviruses (Norwalk-like viruses)

12 to 48 hours

Raw, ready-to-eat produce and shellfish from contaminated water. Can be spread by an infected food handler.


1 to 3 days

Raw, ready-to-eat produce. Can be spread by an infected food handler.


1 to 3 days

Raw or contaminated meat, poultry, milk, or egg yolks. Survives inadequate cooking. Can be spread by knives, cutting surfaces or an infected food handler.


24 to 48 hours

Seafood and raw, ready-to-eat produce. Can be spread by an infected food handler.

Staphylococcus aureus

1 to 6 hours

Meats and prepared salads, cream sauces, and cream-filled pastries. Can be spread by hand contact, coughing and sneezing.

Vibrio vulnificus 

1 to 7 days 

Raw oysters and raw or undercooked mussels, clams, and whole scallops. Can be spread through contaminated seawater


According to the Mayo Clinic, treatment of serious food poisoning may include:

  • Replacement of lost fluids. Fluids and electrolytes — minerals such as sodium, potassium and calcium that maintain the balance of fluids in your body — lost to persistent diarrhea need to be replaced. Some children and adults with persistent diarrhea or vomiting may need hospitalization, where they can receive salts and fluids through a vein (intravenously), to prevent or treat dehydration.
  • Antibiotics. Your doctor may prescribe antibiotics if you have certain kinds of bacterial food poisoning and your symptoms are severe. Food poisoning caused by listeria needs to be treated with intravenous antibiotics during hospitalization. The sooner treatment begins, the better. During pregnancy, prompt antibiotic treatment may help keep the infection from affecting the baby. Antibiotics will not help food poisoning caused by viruses. Antibiotics may actually worsen symptoms in certain kinds of viral or bacterial food poisoning. Talk to your doctor about your options.

Adults with diarrhea that isn't bloody and who have no fever may get relief from taking over the counter medications; loperamide (Imodium A-D) or bismuth subsalicylate (Pepto-Bismol). Ask your doctor about these options.

When you should talk to your doctor?

The CDC recommends to see your doctor if you have: – High fever (temperature over 101.5 F, measured orally) – Blood in the stools – Prolonged vomiting that prevents keeping liquids down (which can lead to dehydration) – Signs of dehydration, including a decrease in urination, a dry mouth and throat, and feeling dizzy when standing up.- – Diarrheal illness that lasts more than 3 days.

Here are some questions you can ask a doctor or another medical professional:

  • What's the likely cause of the symptoms? Are there other possible causes?
  • Is there a need for tests?
  • What's the best treatment approach? Are there alternatives?
  • Is there a need for medication? If yes, is there a generic alternative to the medicine you're prescribing?
  • How can I ease the symptoms?

Some questions the doctor may ask include:

  • Has anyone in your family or otherwise close to you developed similar symptoms? If so, did you eat the same things?
  • Have you traveled anywhere where the water or food might not be safe?
  • Are you having bloody bowel movements?
  • Do you have a fever?
  • Had you taken antibiotics in the days or weeks before your symptoms started?
  • When did symptoms begin?
  • Have the symptoms been continuous, or do they come and go?
  • What foods have you eaten in the past few days?

In the meantime, you or your loved one who is sick should drink plenty of fluids and only eat bland foods to reduce stress on your digestive system. If your child is sick, follow the same approach — offer plenty of fluids and bland food. If you're breast-feeding or using formula, continue to feed your child as usual.

Ask your child's doctor if giving your child an oral rehydration fluid (Pedialyte, Enfalyte, others) is appropriate. Older adults and people with weakened immune systems might also benefit from oral rehydration solutions. Medications that help ease diarrhea generally aren't recommended for children.

For more information about:

Recalled Food

If you have food poisoning and want to check recently recalled foods, please visit this page:

Current Food Recalls

Current Multistate Food Poisoning Outbreaks

When two or more people get the same illness from the same contaminated food or drink, the event is called a foodborne or food poisoning outbreak. Reporting illnesses to your local health department helps them identify potential outbreaks of foodborne disease. Public health officials investigate outbreaks to control them, so more people do not get sick in the outbreak, and to learn how to prevent similar outbreaks from happening in the future.

Here is a list of current multistate foodborne illness outbreaks.

Back to Learn



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