Food Poisoning happens like a bolt out of the blue. One minute you’re fine, and the next you begin to sweat as crippling cramps move wavelike through your stomach. You vomit or have diarrhea or both. And then it goes away. A while ago you feared you wouldn’t live to see another day; then you are back to your normal self.
The United States, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that every year, 1 in 6 Americans gets sick from something they ate. That’s usually because a pathogen found its way into the food, whether during production, preparation, or from your own unwashed hands.
According to the CDC, the top four pathogens that cause the most foodborne illnesses each year are Norovirus, Salmonella, Clostridium perfringens, and Campylobacter. Among those, the microbe with the shortest time it needs to cause illness is Salmonella, and even that’s six hours at a minimum. It can take up to two days. Clostridium perfringens, meanwhile, takes at least eight hours, Norovirus requires at least 12 hours, and Campylobacter takes two days at the very least.
That means that if you come down with diarrhea and vomiting, chances are that it’s because of a meal you had before your last one —maybe even several days before. The good news is that most people don’t require a doctor’s visit when they get food poisoning, although the CDC recommends calling the clinic if you have a temperature above 101.5º F, you can’t keep liquids down, or if your diarrhea lasts more than three days.
Food isn’t always to blame for vomiting and diarrhea. Even if you’ve picked up food poisoning, there’s no way to know where it actually came from. Maybe you forgot to wash your hands after touching something covered in germs, like your phone or a railing, then ate some finger food. Or perhaps your late-night heaving isn’t caused by anything you ingested at all. Stress, anxiety, anger, sadness, and other taxing things that weigh on your mind could be what’s causing the problem.
Before you get angry and blame that ethnic restaurant, think about your food poisoning timeline. When you get “food poisoning” it’s almost never the last thing you ingested.
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