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Food poisoning

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Also known as infectious gastroenteritis, food poisoning is caused by consuming contaminated foods or water. The symptoms can vary from mild discomfort to life-threatening illness.


The symptoms of food poisoning can include:

  • Nausea and/or vomiting that occurs 1-72 hours after consuming contaminated food
  • Diarrhoea, or increased liquidity or frequency of stools is also a common symptom
  • Accompanying symptoms may include:
    • Abdominal pain or cramps, sometimes with bloating
    • Increased frequency and urgency of bowel movements
    • Loss of appetite
    • Fatigue, sometimes with muscular aches and pains
  • In most cases, food poisoning resolves itself within 48 hours, but if dehydration occurs, rehydration is required, sometimes with intravenous fluids


As the name suggests, food poisoning is caused by the consumption of food or drink contaminated by bacteria, viruses or parasites. Amongst others, organisms that are commonly involved include rotavirus, Salmonella, Escherichia coli (E. coli), Campylobacter, and Giardia.

We’re particularly susceptible to food poisoning when travelling, especially in countries with poor hygiene practices, and where water quality is low. Uncooked or undercooked foods are also a particular risk.

Diet and lifestyle

  • Severe or ongoing nausea, vomiting or diarrhoea should be investigated and treated by your doctor. The following diet and lifestyle suggestions are recommended as supportive measures for mild, self-limiting episodes of food poisoning, and are not intended to replace medical advice.
  • Rest until the diarrhoea, nausea and vomiting have passed.
  • During an episode of vomiting or diarrhoea, drink clear fluids (such as water), and avoid solid food until you are feeling better. If you cannot tolerate water, try sucking on small pieces of ice.
  • An electrolyte replacement formula (available from your pharmacy) may help to reduce the risk of dehydration, and is particularly recommended for children.
  • Once you feel up to eating (usually about six hours after vomiting or diarrhoea have passed), start with bland foods such as toast, crackers and rice, and avoid heavy, fatty or spicy foods initially.
  • Eat small frequent meals rather than large infrequent ones.
  • Practice good hygiene. Wash your hands with soap before cooking and preparing any meals, as well as after you’ve been to the toilet, blown your nose, changed a child’s nappy, or been in contact with animals.  Also wash your hands in between touching raw meat and touching any other food.
  • To reduce your risk of food poisoning, don’t eat undercooked meat, seafood, poultry or eggs, or consume unpasteurised dairy foods. 
  • Hot food should be kept at a temperature above 60 degrees Celsius, and cold food below 5 degrees Celsius
  • When travelling, use bottled water for drinking and brushing your teeth and order your drinks without ice. Also avoid uncooked foods, smorgasbords, and peeled fruit or vegetables

Important notes

Seek urgent medical advice if:

  • An adult experiences nausea and vomiting lasting for more than 48 hours, or with severe symptoms. Severe pain, headache, fever, diarrhoea, thirst, or muscle cramps should always be medically investigated, as should decreased urination, or the presence of blood in faeces or vomit. Vomiting in babies and children, the elderly, and those with chronic health problems should be investigated more quickly.
  • In children and babies, sunken eyes and fontanelles, and the absence of urination or tears may be signs of dehydration, and should be addressed urgently.

Get free personalised advice from our team of qualified naturopaths here

Get free personalised advice from our team of qualified naturopaths here