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Quick reference medical handouts used by Pediatric offices


The W's of Food Poisoning: Why, When, and What


Parents should ask themselves three questions if they are concerned that their child may be suffering from food poisoning. When did the illness start? What did the child eat? What are the major symptoms?

Nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea without fever occurring less than 6 hours after eating indicates ingestion of a toxin, most commonly from the bacterium Staphylococcus aureus. The sudden, explosive gastroenteritis ("church picnic food poisoning,") is usually caused by dairy products, egg salad, potato salad, chicken salad cheese, poultry, or meat left out in the sun or at room temperature for too long.

Parasthesias (tingling in the arms and legs) and vomiting with diarrhea within 6 hours are the signs of seafood poisoning. There can also be flushing, headache, and dizziness, as well as severe diarrhea.

Abdominal cramps and profuse watery diarrhea with within 6-16 hours of eating suggest "holiday food poisoning.."  This is most commonly caused by eating cooked meat, turkey, chicken, soups, gravies, or other food left at room temperature for hours on end. The bacteria Clostridium perpringens produces a toxin in the gut that causes the symptoms.

Headache, double vision, and difficulty in swallowing within 12-36 hours after eating suggests poisoning from the Clostridium botulinum bacterium. The toxin-related symptoms are produced from eating contaminated vegetables, fish, meat, poultry, and smoked fish.

Severe headache, followed by vomiting, diarrhea, abdominal cramps and fever within 12-72 hours suggests an infection of the gut from the Salmonella , Shigella, or Campylobacter bacteria. The bacteria often invades the blood stream as well. It is caused by eating contaminated poultry, red meat, eggs, and dairy products.

Acute and often bloody diarrhea from one to ten days after eating undercooked hamburger or unpasteurized juices is probably due to the dangerous Eschericha Coli 0157:H7 bacteria. This bacteria also produces fever and chills. A child with this condition can develop sever anemia with kidney failure (hemolytic-uremic syndrome)

Headache, fever, and nausea within 24 hours to 12 days after ingestion of raw milk, unripened soft cheese, and undercooked meat and poultry is probably due to the Listeria monocytogenes bacteria.

Below is a handy chart that summarizes the different bacteria responsible for food poisoning:

Bacterium

Foods
Involved

Symptoms

Onset

Duration
Of Illness

Prevention

Clostridium perfringens

Cooked meat and poultry,
stews, soups, gravies left
at 60-125F several hours
or cooled slowly.

Diarrhea, abdominal cramps,
and gas

within 6-16  hrs of eating food
containing the
bacteria

24 hrs

Cool food rapidly and
refrigerate promptly at
40F or below, or hold above
140F to prevent growth
of surviving bacteria in
cooked meats, gravies.

Salmonellosis

Poultry, red meat, eggs, and dairy products.

Severe headache, followed
by vomiting, diarrhea, abdominal cramps and fever.

within 12-72 hrs.

2-7 days

heating food to 140F for
10 minutes or to higher
temperatures destroys the bacterium

Staphylococcus aureus

Egg salad, potato salad,
chicken salad cheese, cooked poultry, and dressing.

Vomiting, diarrhea,
prostration, abdominal cramps, retching, weakness

Sudden onset, usually within 2-6 hrs.

1-2 days.

Keep hot foods above 140F
and cold foods at or below
40F. Chill food rapidly in small quantities.

Listeria monocytogenes

Raw milk, unripened soft
cheese, undercooked meat
and poultry

Headache, fever, and nausea.
Can lead to meningitis, and,
in pregnant women, miscarriage or stillbirth

within 24 hrs. to 12 days after ingestion

2-7 days

Cook foods of animal
origin thoroughly. Buy pasteurized milk.

E.coli 0157:H7

Undercooked hamburger
and roast beef, raw milk, contaminated water and mayonnaise, raw milk
Nausea, vomiting, bloody
diarrhea, dehydration,
stomach cramps; especially
dangerous in children who
can develop a medical
condition called hemolytic-
uremic syndrome that is associated with kidney failure

1-10 days after ingestion

7-10 days

cook meat, poultry and fish to 160 F until all pink is gone
Clostridium Botulinum Vegetables, fish, meat, poultry and smoked fish Headache, double vision,
inability to swallow, speech
difficulty, respiratory paralysis. Fatality rate is
about 20%

Within 12-36 hrs.

long recovery

Follow instructions for
time and temperature for
home canning low-acid vegetables, meat, fish,
and poultry.

 

As a reminder, this information should not be relied on as medical advice and is not intended to replace the advice of your child’s pediatrician. Please read our full disclaimer.

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