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Abdominal Problems

Stomach Flu and Food Poisoning

Prevention - Home Treatment - When to Call a Health Professional

Stomach flu and food poisoning are different ailments with different causes. However, many people confuse the two because the symptoms are so similar. Most people who get food poisoning attribute their symptoms of nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, and stomach pain to a sudden case of stomach flu, and vice versa.

Stomach flu is usually caused by a viral infection in the digestive system. To prevent stomach flu, you must avoid contact with the virus, which is not always easy to do.

Food poisoning is usually caused by a toxin produced by bacteria in food that is not handled or stored properly. Bacteria can grow rapidly when certain foods, especially meats, dairy products, and sauces, are not handled properly during preparation or are kept at temperatures between 4° and 60°C (40° and 140°F).

Suspect food poisoning when symptoms are shared by others who ate the same food, or after eating unrefrigerated foods. Symptoms of food poisoning may begin as soon as 1 or 2 hours or as long as 48 hours after eating. Nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea may last from 12 to 48 hours for common food poisoning.

Botulism is a rare but often fatal type of food poisoning. It is generally caused by improper home canning methods for low-acid foods like beans and corn. Bacteria that survive the canning process may grow and produce toxin in the jar. Symptoms include blurred or double vision and difficulty swallowing or breathing.


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To prevent food poisoning:

  • Keep hot foods hot and cold foods cold.

  • Don't eat meat, dressings, salads, or other foods that have been kept for more than 2 hours between 4° and 60°C (40° and 140°F).

  • Use a thermometer to check your refrigerator. It should be between 0° and 4°C (34° and 40°F).

  • Defrost meats in the refrigerator or microwave, not on the kitchen counter.

  • Keep your kitchen clean. Wash your hands, cutting boards, and counter tops frequently. After handling raw meats, especially chicken, wash your hands and utensils before preparing other foods.

  • Cook hamburger until it is well done. Cook chicken until the juices run clear.

  • Do not eat raw eggs or uncooked sauces made with raw eggs.

  • Discard any cans or jars with bulging lids or leaks.

  • Follow home canning and freezing instructions carefully. Contact your provincial Ministry of Agriculture for advice.

Home Treatment

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  • Viral stomach flu and food poisoning will usually go away within 24 to 48 hours. Good home care can speed recovery. For adults and children age 4 and older, see Nausea and Vomiting on See Nausea and Vomiting and Diarrhea on See Diarrhea. For children younger than 4, See Diarrhea and Vomiting.

  • Watch for and treat early signs of dehydration (See Dehydration). Older adults and young children can quickly become dehydrated from diarrhea and vomiting.

When to Call a Health Professional

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  • If vomiting lasts longer than 1 day in an adult.

  • If severe diarrhea (large, loose stools every 1 to 2 hours) lasts longer than 2 days in an adult.

  • If signs of severe dehydration develop. See Dehydration.

  • If you suspect food poisoning from a canned food or have symptoms of botulism (blurred or double vision, difficulty swallowing or breathing). If you still have a sample of the food you suspect caused your symptoms, take it to the doctor for testing.

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