Getting sick from eating food that has germs, viruses, or parasites is more common than you might think. An estimated 48 million Americans, that's 1 out of every 6, come down with food poisoning every year. Most get better on their own without medical treatment.
You may have symptoms like nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea within hours of eating. But sometimes the symptoms can take days or more than a week to show up. That can make it hard to know if it's food poisoning or something else. The delay also makes it tricky to trace the illness back to the specific food or drink.
The same food can affect people differently. Some may feel unwell after just a few bites. Others can eat a lot and have no reaction at all.
Food poisoning is both more common and riskier for people with weakened immune systems, infants and young children, pregnant women, and the elderly.
Food poisoning can be caused by bacteria, viruses, or parasites. They can exist in foods at any stage, such as when they're growing, packaged, shipped, stored, or cooked.
Certain foods are more likely to harbor harmful agents. These include raw eggs, unpasteurized milk and juice, soft cheeses, and raw or undercooked meat or seafood. Fresh produce is another risk. Foods made in bulk are problematic, too. A single bad egg could affect the whole batch of omelets in a buffet. You could make trouble for yourself by not washing the cutting board or your hands as you prepare different foods.
Your chances of getting food poisoning are higher in the summer. In 90-degree heat, food can start to spoil within an hour. At a picnic or during a camping trip, you are more likely to eat undercooked grilled meats or to handle raw meat without access to soap and water. Bacteria can grow quickly inside tepid coolers. So if you're picnicking on a hot day, put leftovers back in with fresh ice.