With the recent development of dozens of cases of food poisoning in the Casper area this week, you might be wondering as to what food poisoning is and where it comes from?

Food poisoning is a common, usually mild, but sometimes deadly illness. Typical symptoms include nausea, vomiting, abdominal cramping, and diarrhea that occur suddenly (within 48 hours) after consuming a contaminated food or drink. Depending on the contaminant, fever and chills, bloody stools, dehydration, and nervous system damage may follow. These symptoms may affect one person or a group of people who ate the same thing (called an outbreak).

What is Food Poisoning?

After seeing this comment on the My Country Facebook page, I decided to investigate.


I decided I would do some more in depth investigation.

Having been the victim of food poisoning several times in the past, I can tell you that it is not a pleasant thing and can feel like a shorter more violent version of the flu.  But rather than guess at the answer to the causes  I decided to do like our poster and check with the CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) as I was truly interested in "What really are the causes of Food Poisoning".

What are the Causes of Food Poisoning?

Although food poisoning can be caused by a virus, the statement our poster made above about food handling and preparations not being a possible cause is incorrect.

The known causes of food poisoning can be divided into two categories: infectious agents and toxic agents.

  • Infectious agents include viruses, bacteria, and parasites.
  • Toxic agents include poisonous mushrooms, improperly prepared exotic foods (such as barracuda - ciguatera toxin), or pesticides on fruits and vegetables.

Food usually becomes contaminated from poor sanitation or preparation. Contrary to the comments from our Facebook page, food handlers who do not wash their hands after using the bathroom or have infections themselves often cause contamination. Improperly packaged food stored at the wrong temperature also promotes contamination.

More than 250 known diseases can be transmitted through food. The CDC estimates unknown or undiscovered agents cause 68% of all food-borne illnesses and related hospitalizations. Many cases of food poisoning are not reported because people suffer mild symptoms and recover quickly. Also, doctors do not test for a cause in every suspected case because it does not change the treatment or the outcome.

What are the Symptoms of Food Poisoning?

Most of the common contaminants cause:

  • nausea
  • vomiting
  • diarrhea
  • abdominal cramping
  • fever

Usually food poisoning is not serious, and the illness runs its course in 24-48 hours. But may depend on the type of contaminant and the amount eaten.  Symptioms can develop as rapidly as within 30 minutes.

What is this Norovirus that everyone is talking about?

  • Noroviruses are a group of viruses that cause a mild illness (often termed "stomach flu") with nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, abdominal pain, headache, and low-grade fever. These symptoms usually resolve in two to three days. It is the most common viral cause of adult food poisoning and is transmitted from water, shellfish, and vegetables contaminated by feces, as well as from person to person. Outbreaks are more common in densely populated areas such as nursing homes, schools, and cruise ships.

Viruses account for most food poisoning cases where a specific contaminant is found.

Bacteria can cause food poisoning in two different ways. Some bacteria infect the intestines, causing inflammation and difficulty absorbing nutrients and water, leading to diarrhea. Other bacteria produce chemicals in foods (known as toxins) that are poisonous to the human digestive system. When eaten, these chemicals can lead to nausea and vomiting, kidney failure, and even death.

The most common types of food poisioning bacteria include: Salmonella, Campylobacter, Staphylococcus aureus and Escherichia coli (E coli).

Parasites rarely cause food poisoning. When they do, they are usually swallowed in contaminated or untreated water and cause long-lasting but mild symptoms.

When Should You Seek Medical Care

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends that you contact your doctor if any of the following situations occur:

  • Nausea, vomiting, or diarrhea lasts for more than two days.
  • The ill person is a child younger than three years of age.
  • The abdominal symptoms are associated with a low-grade fever.
  • Symptoms begin after recent foreign travel.
  • Other family members or friends who ate the same thing are also sick.
  • The ill person cannot keep any liquids down.
  • The ill person does not improve within two days even though they are drinking large amounts of fluids.
  • The ill person has a disease or illness that weakens their immune system (for example, HIV/AIDS, cancer and undergoing chemotherapy, kidney disease).
  • The ill person cannot take their normal prescribed medications because of vomiting.
  • The ill person has any nervous system symptoms such as slurred speech, muscle weakness, double vision, or difficulty swallowing.
  • The ill person is pregnant.

Go to the nearest hospital's emergency department if any of the following situations occur:

  • The ill person passes out or collapse, become dizzy, lightheaded, or has problems with vision.
  • A fever higher than 101 F (38.3 C) occurs with the abdominal symptoms.
  • Sharp or cramping pains do not go away after 10-15 minutes.
  • The ill person's stomach or abdomen swells.
  • The skin and/or eyes turn yellow.
  • The ill person is vomiting blood or having bloody bowel movements.
  • The ill person stops urinating, have decreased urination, or have urine that is dark in color.
  • The ill person develops problems with breathing, speaking, or swallowing.
  • One or more joints swell or a rash breaks out on the ill person's skin.
  • The ill person or caretaker considers the situation to be an emergency.
And if you have any questions, please contact your doctor or call your local urgent care facility.
If you would like to find out more about food-borne illnesses, I would encourage you to check out the CDC's Food Safety and Food-borne Illness Reference page - Click Here.
Source: CDC.gov