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If you have stomach cramps, diarrhea, fever, or nausea a few hours after eating something, chances are you may have food poisoning. Let's talk about food poisoning.

Food poisoning happens when you eat food or drink water that's been contaminated with bacteria, parasites, viruses, or toxins. Most cases of food poisoning are due to common bacteria, such as Staphylococcus or E. coli.

Bacteria may get into your food in different ways. Meat or poultry may come into contact with intestinal bacteria when it gets processed. Water that's used during growing or shipping may contain animal or human waste. Food poisoning may also occur when people handle your food without washing their hands properly, when food is prepared using unclean cooking utensils or cutting boards, when perishable foods are left out of the refrigerator for too long, and when people eat raw foods like fish or oysters or undercooked meats or eggs. Untreated water can also cause food poisoning.

So, what do you do about food poisoning?
Well, fortunately, you'll usually recover from the most common types of food poisoning within 12 to 48 hours. Your goal should be to make sure that your body gets enough fluids so that you don't become dehydrated. Don't eat solid foods until diarrhea has passed, and avoid dairy products. Drink any fluid (except milk and caffeinated beverages) to replace fluids in your body.

If you have eaten toxins from mushrooms or shellfish, seek medical attention right away. The emergency room doctor will then empty out your stomach and remove the toxin.

Most people will recover from the most common types of food poisoning pretty quickly. However, if food poisoning leads to dehydration because you can't keep anything down, you should seek immediate medical attention.

Review Date: 11/16/2011
Reviewed By: Mitchell W. Hecht, MD FACP, Internal Medicine private practice in Roswell, GA; author of the nationally-syndicated medical column 'Ask Dr. H.' Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, A.D.A.M. Health Solutions, Ebix, Inc.
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