Can You Get Staph From Food Poisoning?

It’s possible to get a staph infection from food poisoning, but a number of things have to happen first. This type of infection is caused by the bacteria Staphylococcus aureus, or “staph” for short. It’s the main cause of skin infections and cellulitis (an infection of the underlying layers of your skin).

Staph is found in the skin, hair, noses, and throats of many people and animals. Up to 25% of healthy people have this bacteria, and the percentage is even higher if you include those with skin, eye, nose, or throat infections. Most staph infections aren’t much to worry about, but if the bacteria gets into your bloodstream or joints, it can become very serious.

How Do You Get a Staph Infection?

It's most often spread by someone who has the bacteria and did not wash their hands properly. Meal preparation is a common way staph is spread: Someone with the infection, and unclean hands, handles food or the equipment used to prepare it.

The bacteria can increase very rapidly at room temperature and produce a toxin that makes you sick. Cooking the food will kill the bacteria, but not the toxin if it has already spread in the food. So, the foods most at risk for staph are ones that were not kept in the refrigerator before cooking, or they’re things that are not normally cooked. These include:

  • Salads (tuna, macaroni, potato, and others)
  • Baked goodies such as pastries, cream pies, and chocolate éclairs
  • Sandwiches, particularly if they’re made with processed meats
  • Unpasteurized milk and cheese products
  • Salty foods, like ham

Food contaminated with the staph toxin may not look or smell bad, so you may not know to avoid them.

What are the Signs of Staph Infection?

You'll know pretty quickly that you're sick. Symptoms will appear within 30 minutes to 6 hours of eating. Nausea, vomiting, stomach cramps, and diarrhea are typical. The symptoms will usually only last a day and you won't be contagious.

To be absolutely sure you had a staph infection (instead of some other type of food poisoning), a doctor would have to test your stool or vomit. Since the symptoms only last 24 hours, most people don't take this step. However, if there’s an outbreak of food poisoning, it might be done.

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How Do You Treat a Staph Infection?

Time and rest are the best treatments. Drink lots of fluids, as you will become dehydrated from vomiting. If the symptoms continue beyond 24 hours and you’re still dehydrated, see your doctor.

How Do You Treat a Staph Infection?

Time and rest are the best treatments. Drink lots of fluids, as you will become dehydrated from vomiting. If the symptoms continue beyond 24 hours and you’re still dehydrated, see your doctor.

How Do You Prevent Staph Infection?

  • Don’t handle food if you have a nose or eye infection, or a wound or skin infection on your hands.
  • Wash your hands and under your fingernails thoroughly with soap and water before preparing food.
  • Keep your kitchen and food-serving areas clean and sanitary.
  • If food is prepared more than 2 hours before serving, keep the hot foods hot (over 140 F) and the cold foods cold (under 40 F).
  • Refrigerate cooked food as soon as possible and store it in a wide, shallow container.
WebMD Medical Reference Reviewed by Minesh Khatri, MD on May 31, 2019

Sources

SOURCES:

Minnesota Department of Health: "Causes and Symptoms of Staphylococcus aureus."

FoodSafety.gov: "Staphylococcus."

CDC: "Staphylococcal Food Poisoning."

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