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What Exactly Is Food Poisoning?

This article is the first of a two-part series of articles concerning food poisoning. Part I covers the various types of common food Food poisoningpoisoning, how food becomes contaminated, and food that is most susceptible to food poisoning.   Part II includes the best practices for preventing food poisoning.

Normally, food poisoning is just an annoyance as normally you’ll just be sick for a few days. Granted, you may wish you were dead. But you’ll survive. However, when the SHTF or if you are in an outdoor survival situation, food poisoning can be life-threatening.  Below is an introduction to the various common type of food poisoning.

The three types of food poisoning are infections,  intoxicants, and food contamination, which are explained below:


Food infection happens when you eat foods containing harmful microorganisms. Salmonella and E. coli are the most common types of foodborne infections. You may mistake a foodborne infection for the GI flu or vice versa. Symptoms of food infection poisoning are fever, headache, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, abdominal pain or distress, and prostration. Figuring out that you are suffering from food infection is tricky as you’ll get sick only around 6 to 24 hours after eating infected food.

Food infection microorganisms thrive in moist environments and protein foods. Therefore, shellfish and meat products are most likely to be subject to food infection as they tend to be damp and are also protein foods. Also, infected food usually looks okay and smells, and it tastes normal.  So, other than lab tests, there is nothing you can do to find out if food is infected.


FoodBorne Intoxication happens when harmful bacteria grow when certain conditions are met.  It takes approximately eight hours for staphyl wococci toxins to multiply to the point where food intoxication occurs. The defense against this bacteria is the proper handling of food and sanitation as staphylococcus infection, can’t be removed by cooking. Foodborne intoxication symptoms occur around two to four hours after eating intoxicated food. The symptoms of foodborne intoxication poisoning are dysentery, weakness with little or no fever, and vomiting.


Staphylococci is the primary type of bacteria associated with foodborne intoxication and occurs before the food is eaten.  It takes approximately eight hours for staphylococci toxins to multiply for it to be dangerous. Staphylococcus intoxication is most likely to happen when eating starchy foods, (custards, pies, and potato salads are examples) pork, pork products (ham, salami, etc.), and chicken products.

The improper handling of food and poor sanitation are the main reasons for staphylococci intoxication. For example, when not refrigerated, staphylococci multiplies in ham. Also, infected staphylococcal food is caused by boils, pimples, infected cuts, and bodily discharge from kitchen workers.


A rare but deadly form of food intoxication is botulism. The improper canning of low acidic foods is the most frequent cause of botulism intoxication. However, cases of botulism have also occurred with home canned meats, smoked fish, and even potpies. The symptoms of botulism infection are at first headaches, dizziness, and weakness, and it can eventually lead to heart failure or respiratory failure.


Poisons that naturally occur in plants or animals are considered natural toxins. An extreme example of this is the Japanese pufferfish, which, when not prepared properly, is a deadly poison.

Mushrooms and berries are the most common, naturally poisonous foods. However, there are many other types of foods that are naturally poisonous, and some food that is normally considered safe to eat can turn poisonous under certain conditions.

For example, a barracuda can become poisonous after it comes in contact with a specific type of plankton. Also, scallops, mussels, oysters, and clams can become deadly when “red tide” occurs. Also, rhubarb leaves are poisonous. But, the roots are edible.


Food poisons also happen through either intentional or accidental food contamination. Most likely, this occurs through shoddy processing, harvesting, or storing food. For example, food may be contaminated by insecticides or cleaning supplies. Also, food contamination can even happen by using cadmium plated or galvanized pitchers or cans.