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Extension > Food > Food Safety > Sanitation and Illness > Is it Food Poisoning?

Sanitation and Illness

Is it Food Poisoning?

William Schafer

If you or a family member develop nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, fever or cramps, you could have food poisoning. Unfortunately, it's not always easy to tell since, depending on the illness, symptoms can appear anywhere from 30 minutes to 2 weeks later. Most often, though, people get sick within 4 to 48 hours after eating bad food.

In more serious cases, food poisoning victims may have nervous system problems like paralysis, double vision or trouble swallowing or breathing.

If symptoms are severe or the victim is very young, old, pregnant or already ill, call a doctor or go to the hospital right away.

When to Report Foodborne Illness

You or your physician should report serious cases of foodborne illness to the local health department. Report any food poisoning incidents if the food involved came from a restaurant or commercial outlet.

Give a detailed but short account of the incident. If the food is a commercial product, have it in hand so you can describe it. If you're asked to keep the food refrigerated so officials can examine it later, follow directions carefully.

For more information on food handling, call USDA's Meat and Poultry Hotline, 1-888-674-6854 or email your questions to:


Kitchen Companion: Your Safe Food Handbook, USDA Food Safety and Inspection Service, 2008.

Related Resources

Reviewed by Kathy Brandt 2013

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