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How Long Does Food Poisoning Last?

Food Poisoning Timeline

If you are suffering from diarrhea, stomach cramps, vomiting, and struggling to replace lost fluids, you may be wondering, “How long does food poisoning last?” The most common types of food poisoning usually last from 12 to 48 hours.

Though most people fully recover in this timeframe, food poisoning can be a serious and life-threatening illness with after-effects lasting for weeks or months. People with weakened immune systems, the very old, the very young, or pregnant women may take even longer to fully recover from foodborne illness. Some people never fully recover.

The Washington, DC food poisoning lawyers at Regan Zambri Long PLLC understand the devastating impact serious food poisoning from contaminated food can have on individuals and their families. We are here to help victims of serious foodborne illnesses caused by negligence seek justice.

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How long does food poisoning last?


How Fast Do Food Poisoning Symptoms Start?

The onset of food poisoning symptoms varies depending on the type of contamination. Bacterial food poisoning symptoms usually begin within 24 hours, and sometimes start as soon as 30 minutes after eating. It can take 12 to 48 hours for viral food poisoning symptoms to start. Symptoms from parasites may take up to a week to appear.

How long does food poisoning last?

Types of Germs and Duration of Symptoms of Food Poisoning

The appearance of severe symptoms from food poisoning and their duration will vary depending on the germ in the contaminated food. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, these can include:

Staph Food Poisoning (Staphylococcus aureus)

The toxins produced by this bacteria commonly cause nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, and stomach cramps. The symptoms appear 30 minutes to eight hours after eating contaminated food and last about a day. This type of food poisoning occurs when foods are not cooked after being handled by a person carrying Staph who has not washed their hands. Common sources of contamination include sliced meats, sandwiches, pastries, and other similar foods.


When ingested in undercooked shellfish and raw oysters, this bacteria can cause watery diarrhea along with abdominal cramps, nausea, vomiting, chills, and fever. These common symptoms of Vibrio start within 24 hours and last around three days.

Clostridium perfringens

Food contaminated with this bacteria is one of the most common causes of food poisoning in the United States and the CDC estimates that it is responsible for nearly 1 million cases of foodborne illness each year. Outbreaks of C. perfringens occur when poultry, meat, gravy, and food cooked in large batches is stored at an unsafe temperature of 40°F–140°F. The symptoms appear after 6 to 24 hours and include diarrhea and stomach cramping that last for less than 24 hours.


Often mistaken for a stomach flu, norovirus is a virus that is the most common cause of vomiting, diarrhea, severe dehydration, and foodborne illness. These symptoms generally appear in 12 to 48 hours. It can also cause stomach pain, fever, headache, and body aches and is commonly caused by contaminated water, contact with an infected person, contact with contaminated surfaces, leafy greens, fresh fruits, and shellfish. People with norovirus usually get better in one to three days, but they are still contagious for a few days after the symptoms go away.


Clostridium botulinum is a bacterium that produces a toxin that attacks the body’s nerves causing difficulty breathing, muscle paralysis, and even death. Symptoms of botulism appear after 18 to 36 hours after eating contaminated food and include muscle weakness, difficulty swallowing, blurred vision, slurred speech, and difficulty moving the eyes. It is commonly found in improperly canned foods, fermented foods, or homemade alcohol. About 5% of people diagnosed with botulism die.


This is the most common bacterial cause of diarrheal illness and affects 1.5 million people in the United States each year. Symptoms include bloody diarrhea, fever, and stomach cramps and appear after 2 to 5 days of exposure. Raw or undercooked poultry that has been consumed or prepared on cutting boards that spread the bacteria to other foods, unpasteurized milk and dairy products, contaminated water, and contact with cat or dog feces have been associated with outbreaks of Campylobacter. Common complications can include irritable bowel syndrome, temporary paralysis, and arthritis. It can also spread to the bloodstream of immunocompromised people and cause a life-threatening infection.

E. coli (Escherichia coli)

Undercooked or raw ground beef, raw cookie dough, unpasteurized milk and juice, raw vegetables and sprouts, and contaminated water have been linked to E. coli outbreaks. It takes 3 to 4 days for E. coli food poisoning symptoms to appear. Symptoms can include vomiting, diarrhea, and stomach cramps. Most people feel better after 5 to 7 days. According to the CDC, 5–10% of victims develop hemolytic uremic syndrome, which is a life-threatening condition that affects the kidneys and blood clotting functions.


Cyclospora cayetanensis is a single cell parasite that causes an intestinal infection called cyclosporiasis. It is spread when food or water is contaminated with feces and is often found in raw fruits, vegetables, and herbs. Cyclospora food poisoning symptoms generally appear 1 week after infection and include watery diarrhea, weight loss, loss of appetite, stomach pain, bloating, gas, nausea, and fatigue. It can last for a few days, a month, or even longer and it is common for people to experience a relapse.

Listeria monocytogenes

Listeria is a bacterium that causes a serious infection with symptoms appearing 2 weeks after consumption of foods like soft cheeses, raw sprouts, hot dogs, pâtés, melons, raw milk, and smoked fish. It causes flu-like symptoms like fever, muscle aches, and fatigue, as well as headaches, confusion, stiff neck, loss of balance, and seizures. It is particularly dangerous for pregnant women and newborns and can lead to premature delivery, miscarriage, stillbirth, and life-threatening infections.

Common Sources of Food Poisoning

Food poisoning can occur when food is not cooked nor stored at the right temperature when it is contaminated by a sickened worker or consumer, and when it contains substances that are toxic to the body including:

  • Raw seafood
  • Uncooked eggs
  • Unwashed raw fruits and vegetables
  • Undercooked meat or seafood
  • Food stored at unsafe temperatures
  • Improperly canned and fermented foods used to prepare other foods like potato salad
  • Soft cheeses or raw dairy products

People at Higher Risk of Food Poisoning

How Long Does Food Poisoning LastThough food poisoning can affect anyone, certain groups are at greater risk of more serious complications. These include pregnant women, young children, the elderly, and people with weakened immune systems.

Older Adults 65+

According to the CDC, almost half of people who are 65 or older with food poisoning caused by SalmonellaCampylobacterListeria, or E. coli require hospitalization and immediate medical attention. Because of their age, their immune systems may not be as strong and able to fight off the food poisoning infection.

Pregnant Women

Foodborne illnesses can cause significant harm to an unborn baby. Listeria, for example, is one of the most dangerous types of food poisoning during pregnancy because pregnant women are 10 times more likely to get it than other people. In newborns, a Listeria infection can cause serious illness requiring immediate medical treatment and even death.

Young Children Under 5

Young children with developing immune systems can suffer severe illness from food poisoning and are three times more likely to be hospitalized if they get a Salmonella infection. One in seven children under 5 years of age who are diagnosed with E. coli suffer from kidney failure. It is especially important to prevent dehydration in young children and seek medical attention immediately if they show food poisoning symptoms.

People with a Weakened Immune System

People with HIV/AIDS, cancer, autoimmune disorders, and other medical conditions that weaken their immune system may have difficulty fighting off a foodborne illness. They are more likely to experience long-term effects from the infection. For instance, people on dialysis are 50 times more likely to get Listeria.

Serious Health Problems and Long-Term Effects From Food Poisoning

The effects of food poisoning can last long after the symptoms have gone away. People who have suffered severe complications from foodborne illnesses may experience chronic health issues and even permanent disabilities including:

  • Kidney damage or kidney failure – Kidney disease can require a lifetime of dialysis or even a kidney transplant.
  • Brain and nerve damage – This type of damage can result in serious cognitive effects, paralysis, and even death.
  • Arthritis – Food poisoning may cause long-term joint pain and swelling in the joints.
  • Meningitis – People may suffer hearing loss, seizures, and permanent disabilities such as scarring and amputations from sepsis.

How to Prevent Food Poisoning

The most important way to prevent food poisoning and foodborne disease is to practice safe handling of food. This includes practicing proper hygiene and washing hands and surfaces regularly, thoroughly cooking raw meat and eggs, avoiding cross-contamination between raw and cooked foods, refrigerating perishable items promptly after cooking or purchase, and reheating leftovers properly.

If you or a loved one has suffered severe side effects from food poisoning, you may be entitled to compensation. The Washington, DC food poisoning lawyers at Regan Zambri Long PLLC are here to help victims of food contamination seek justice. Contact us today for a free consultation.

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