Food Poisoning: Know the Symptoms and First Aid Treatment

Food poisoning is a common and unpleasant condition that occurs when you consume contaminated food or beverages. Symptoms can range from mild to severe and may include nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, abdominal pain, and fever. This comprehensive guide will provide you with step-by-step instructions on how to administer first aid for food poisoning.


When you are exposed to a harmful substance, it can lead to poisoning. This can be due to injecting, swallowing, breathing, or other means. While food poisoning typically resolves on its own within a few days, it's important to provide first aid to manage the symptoms and prevent dehydration, which can be a serious complication. First aid for food poisoning involves simple steps to help alleviate symptoms and aid in the recovery process:

  1. Recognize Symptoms: If someone shows signs of food poisoning, such as vomiting, diarrhea, stomach cramps, and nausea, identify these symptoms as the first step.
  2. Remove the Source: If the food poisoning is due to something they ate, make sure they stop eating or drinking the suspect food immediately. Throw away any leftover contaminated food.
  3. Hydrate: Dehydration is a big concern with food poisoning. Encourage the person to drink clear fluids in small sips, like water or an oral rehydration solution (ORS). Avoid caffeinated, alcoholic, or sugary drinks.
  4. Rest: Suggest that the affected person rests and avoids strenuous activity. Rest helps the body recover.
  5. Over-the-Counter Medications: Over-the-counter medications like anti-diarrheal or anti-nausea drugs can help manage symptoms. However, consult a healthcare professional before using any medications.
  6. Bland Diet: Recommend a bland diet consisting of plain foods like rice, plain pasta, toast, applesauce, bananas, and boiled or steamed potatoes. Avoid dairy, spicy, fatty, and heavy foods until symptoms improve.
  7. Monitor for Complications: Keep an eye out for signs of severe illness, such as a high fever, blood in stool, worsening symptoms, signs of dehydration, or confusion. If these occur, seek medical help promptly.


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1. Recognize Symptoms

Recognizing the symptoms of food poisoning is the initial and crucial step in delivering effective first aid. Be vigilant for the following signs, which may indicate food poisoning:

  • Vomiting: Frequent or persistent vomiting, especially shortly after eating or drinking.
  • Diarrhea: Frequent and watery bowel movements, often accompanied by abdominal discomfort.
  • Stomach Cramps: Sharp or persistent abdominal pain and cramps, which can range from mild to severe.
  • Nausea: A feeling of queasiness or the urge to vomit.

If you observe any of these symptoms in someone who has recently consumed food or beverages, it's likely they are experiencing food poisoning. Promptly identifying these signs is essential for taking appropriate action and providing necessary aid.


2. Remove the Source

If the food poisoning is attributed to something they consumed, it's essential to act swiftly. Advise the affected person to immediately stop eating or drinking the suspect food. Any remaining contaminated food or drink should be discarded to prevent further exposure.


3. Hydrate

Dehydration is a significant concern when dealing with food poisoning because vomiting and diarrhea can lead to a loss of fluids. To counteract this, gently encourage the person to sip clear fluids in small amounts. Opt for options like water or an oral rehydration solution (ORS) designed to restore lost electrolytes. It's vital to emphasize avoiding beverages that can exacerbate dehydration, such as caffeinated drinks, alcohol, or sugary beverages.


4. Rest

Encouraging the person affected by food poisoning to take it easy and avoid engaging in strenuous activities is a critical component of providing effective first aid. Rest promotes healing by allowing the body to allocate its energy and resources toward combating the infection or toxin responsible for food poisoning. Additionally, rest helps reduce strain on the body, which can exacerbate symptoms such as nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea. By avoiding strenuous activities, we minimize the risk of fluid loss through sweating, a common concern with food poisoning, which helps maintain proper hydration levels. 


5. Over-the-Counter Medications

Over-the-counter medications like anti-diarrheal or anti-nausea drugs can provide relief from specific symptoms. However, it's essential to exercise caution and consult with a healthcare professional before administering any medications, particularly in cases involving children, the elderly, or those with underlying medical conditions.


6. Bland Diet

Recommend a bland and easily digestible diet to ease the strain on the digestive system. Suggest plain foods like rice, simple pasta, toast, applesauce, bananas, and boiled or steamed potatoes. During this period, it's crucial to avoid dairy, spicy foods, fatty dishes, and heavy meals until symptoms significantly improve.


7. Monitor for Complications

Keep a close watch on the affected person for any signs of severe illness, such as a high fever, the presence of blood in stool, worsening symptoms, indications of dehydration (like dry mouth or dark urine), or confusion. Should any of these warning signs appear, it's imperative to seek prompt medical attention.

What is Food Poisoning?

Also known as foodborne illness, food poisoning occurs when you consume foods or drinks contaminated with harmful bacteria that have multiplied, either from poor handling, improper cooking, or poor food storage. There are certain foods that are most likely to cause foodborne illness, such as fish products that are served raw, undercooked deli meats and ground beef, unpasteurized milk, cheese, and juice raw, and unwashed fruits and vegetables.

Other things, such as parasites, toxins, chemicals, and viruses, can contaminate food during its processing or production. Still, these causes are much less common than contamination from bacteria.

Who’s at Risk of Food Poisoning?

Food poisoning can occur to anyone after ingestion of contaminated food. The infection may occur when a person complains that the food they ate didn’t taste right, ate old food, improperly prepared, or if the food was left at room temperature for more than 4 hours. There may be no signs that food or water has been contaminated until the symptoms of food poisoning occur. People are more prone to foodborne illnesses than others, such as:

  • People with weakened immune systems
  • Diabetics
  • People with AIDS
  • People going through therapy for cancer
  • Pregnant women
food poisoning

What are the Common Symptoms of Food Poisoning?

If you have a foodborne illness, it won’t go undetected. However, symptoms can vary depending on the source of the infection. Most types of food poisoning cause one or more of the following symptoms:

  • Watery diarrhea
  • Vomiting
  • Loss of appetite
  • Stomach cramps
  • Nausea
  • Headache
  • Mild fever
  • Weakness

Food poisoning symptoms that are potentially life-threatening include:

  • Diarrhea that lasts for more than three days
  • A fever higher than 102°F
  • Difficulty seeing or speaking
  • Symptoms of severe dehydration
  • Bloody urine

When to call for help?

There are two ways to get help from food poisoning in the United States – the Emergency Medical Services team or the Poison Control Center. They are excellent resources for poisoning information and, in many situations, may advise that in-home observation is all that’s needed. You should Call 911 immediately if the victim of food poisoning is:

  • Drowsy, unconscious, or not breathing
  • Having seizures
  • Having difficulty breathing
  • Uncontrollably restless or agitated
  • Known to have taken medications or any other substance overdosed.

If the person is stable and has no symptoms or if the person is going to be transported to the local emergency department, you should call the Poison Control Center. When speaking with the poison control center, be ready to describe the person’s symptoms, age, weight, other medications they are taking, and other information you have about the poison. It would be best to know the amount ingested and how long since the person was exposed to it. If possible, have the pill bottle, medication package, or other suspect containers on hand to refer to its label.

food poisoning

How to prevent Food Poisoning?

Food poisoning or foodborne illness can be prevented by following these general guidelines:

  • Freeze or refrigerate perishable foods within two hours of purchasing or preparing them.
  • Cook meats and eggs thoroughly before eating.
  • Wash kitchen utensils in hot, soapy water.
  • Use plastic cutting boards for cutting raw food.
  • Clean all surfaces and utensils that come into contact with uncooked meat or eggs.
  • Do not eat foods made from undercooked meat, eggs, or unpasteurized dairy products.
  • Wash raw vegetables and fruits entirely before eating.
  • Avoid cross-contamination of foods by keeping produce, cooked foods, and ready-to-eat foods separate from uncooked meats and raw eggs.
  • When buying food items, always check the expiration date. Don’t eat them after the expiry date on the label.
  • Do not eat raw or very lightly cooked ground beef, chicken, eggs, or fish.
  • Keep away from foods that have an unusual odor or spoiled taste.
  • When storing food in the refrigerator, keep raw food, such as raw meat and poultry, separate from cooked foods to prevent cross – contamination.
  • Wash your utensil thoroughly before and after cooking raw meat, seafood, poultry, or vegetables.
  • Don’t buy cracked, dented, or defective foods in jars or cans.
  • Use separate chopping boards for raw fruits and vegetables, meat products, and ready-to-eat foods.
  • Drink only fruit juices that have been pasteurized.