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Staph Food Poisoning

Condition Basics

What is staph food poisoning?

Staph food poisoning is a type of food poisoning caused by infection with the Staphylococcus aureus (S. aureus) bacterium. The bacteria multiply in foods and produce toxins especially if food is kept at room temperature. The toxins may be present in dangerous amounts in foods that have no signs of spoilage, such as a bad smell.

What causes it?

Most people get staph poisoning by eating contaminated food. The most common reason for contamination is that the food has not been kept hot enough [140 F (60 C) or above] or cold enough [40 F (4 C) or below].

Foods that are associated with staph food poisoning include:

  • Meats.
  • Poultry and egg products.
  • Salads such as egg, tuna, chicken, potato, and macaroni.
  • Bakery products such as cream-filled pastries, cream pies, and chocolate eclairs.
  • Sandwich fillings.
  • Milk and dairy products.

What are the symptoms?

Symptoms of staph food poisoning include nausea, vomiting, retching, stomach cramping, and diarrhea. In more severe cases, dehydration, headache, muscle cramping, and changes in blood pressure and pulse rate may occur.

Symptoms typically come on quickly. How severe they are depends on your susceptibility to the toxin, how much contaminated food you ate, how much of the toxin you ingested, and your general health. The condition is typically over in a few days. But it is not unusual for recovery to take longer in severe cases.

How is it diagnosed?

Staph food poisoning is diagnosed based on a medical history and a physical exam. Your doctor will ask you questions about your symptoms, your work and home environments, and foods you have recently eaten and whether other people have become ill from eating the same things. A stool culture and blood tests may be done if your symptoms are severe or to rule out other causes.

How is staph food poisoning treated?

You treat staph food poisoning by managing any complications until it passes. Dehydration caused by diarrhea and vomiting is the most common complication. Do not use medicines, including antibiotics and other treatments, unless your doctor recommends them.

To prevent dehydration, drink plenty of fluids. Choose water and other clear liquids until you feel better. You can take frequent sips of a rehydration drink (such as Pedialyte). Soda, fruit juices, and sports drinks have too much sugar and not enough of the important electrolytes that are lost during diarrhea. These kinds of drinks should not be used to rehydrate.

When you feel like eating again, start with small amounts of food. This will help you to get enough nutrition.

How can you prevent it?

The following steps can help prevent staph food poisoning (adapted from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention).

  • Shop safely. Bag raw meat, poultry, or fish separately from other food items. Drive home immediately after finishing your shopping so that you can store all foods properly.
  • Prepare foods safely. Wash your hands before and after handling food. Also wash them after using the bathroom or changing diapers. Wash fresh fruits and vegetables by rinsing them well with running water. If possible, use two cutting boards-one for fresh produce and the other for raw meat, poultry, and seafood. You can also wash your knives and cutting boards in the dishwasher to disinfect them.
  • Store foods safely. Cook, refrigerate, or freeze meat, poultry, eggs, fish, and ready-to-eat foods within 2 hours. Make sure your refrigerator is set at 40 F (4 C) or colder.
  • Serve foods safely. Keep cooked hot foods hot [140 F (60 C) or above] and cold foods cold [40 F (4 C) or below].
  • Follow labels on food packaging. Food packaging labels provide information about when to use the food and how to store it. Reading food labels and following safety instructions will reduce your chances of becoming ill with food poisoning.
  • When in doubt, throw it out. If you are not sure whether a food is safe, don't eat it. Reheating food that is contaminated will not make it safe. Don't taste suspicious food. It may smell and look fine but still may not be safe to eat.

It is important to pay particular attention to food preparation and storage during warm months when food is often served outside. Bacteria grow faster in warmer weather, so food can spoil more quickly and possibly cause illness. Do not leave food outdoors for more than 1 hour if the temperature is above 90 F (32 C), and never leave it outdoors for more than 2 hours.

Credits

Current as of: July 1, 2021

Author: Healthwise Staff
Medical Review:
E. Gregory Thompson MD - Internal Medicine
Adam Husney MD - Family Medicine