Food poisoning can be caused by a variety of bacterial, viral or parasitic agents that move from undercooked or ready-to-eat foods into your digestive tract. Some of these pathogens attack body tissue directly. Others attach themselves to the walls of the intestine, reproduce and release a toxin that causes the symptoms of food poisoning. How long after you’re infected and how long until food poisoning goes away depends on what type of pathogen is responsible.
Most cases of food poisoning are mild and clear up in two to three days from the initial onset of symptoms. The nausea and diarrhea that result from food poisoning can leave you feeling weak for a few days after these symptoms subside. More serious conditions, described below, can have complications that last for several weeks, require hospitalization and can even lead to death. Some food poisoning is especially dangerous for pregnant women because it can lead to premature delivery or infection of the unborn fetus.
Undercooked beef or chicken is usually associated with three types of food poisoning. Toxoplasma gondii, a soil parasite, can be transmitted through undercooked meat. Infection by campylobacter begins with exposure of the meat to animal fees during the processing stage. Symptoms begin two to five days after consumption. Escherichia coli (E. coli) similarly gets into meat during the slaughtering stage and can create symptoms in one to eight days after consumption. Clostridium perfringens usually develops on meat or stews that are left uncovered at low temperatures for long periods of time, either prior to serving or during cooling for storage. Symptoms from clostridium begin within eight to 16 hours of consumption.
Water and Seafood
Water is an excellent medium for microbes that cause food poisoning. This means that seafoods and produce (which is watered) can carry dangerous pathogens. Giardia lamblia is notoriously present in streams and rivers and can find its way onto produce, causing symptoms one to two weeks later. Shigella, which causes symptoms in 24 to 48 hours, is spread through infected produce. Vibrio vulnificus is the bug typically associated with raw oysters, mussels, clams and scallops. It produces symptoms in one to seven days. Hepatitis A, which can also be transmitted via shellfish and produce, takes 28 days to produce symptoms.
Salmonella is probably one of the most widely known food-poisoning pathogens, potentially present in poultry, eggs and dairy products. Symptoms appear in one to three days. Listeria can make you ill in nine to 48 hours after eating processed meats or unpasteurized dairy. Staphylococcus aureus is also fast-acting, producing symptoms in one to six hours after consuming infected meat, produce or dairy sauces and fillings.
Most cases of food poisoning do not last for more than a few days. A few causes can be much more serious and require medical attention. Botulism, caused by clostridium botulinim, produces a toxin that causes paralysis from the head down. Infection can lead to death if not treated quickly. Listeriosis, caused by listeria infection, can spread to the brain and nervous system, causing headache, confusion and convulsions if not treated. Salmonella infection can last more than a week and may require hospitalization. Taxoplasmosis, caused by Toxoplasma gondii, produces flu-like symptoms and poses a particular threat to pregnant women.