Treatment for Food Poisoning

How can I treat food poisoning?

In most cases, people with food poisoning get better on their own without medical treatment. You can treat food poisoning by replacing lost fluids and electrolytes to prevent dehydration. In some cases, over-the-counter medicines may help relieve your symptoms.

When you have food poisoning, you may vomit after you eat or lose your appetite for a short time. When your appetite returns, you can most often go back to eating your normal diet, even if you still have diarrhea. Find tips on what to eat when you have food poisoning.

If your child has symptoms of food poisoning, such as vomiting or diarrhea, don’t hesitate to call a doctor for advice.

Replace lost fluids and electrolytes

When you have food poisoning, you need to replace lost fluids and electrolytes to prevent dehydration or treat mild dehydration. You should drink plenty of liquids. If vomiting is a problem, try sipping small amounts of clear liquids. Replacing lost fluids and electrolytes is the most important treatment for food poisoning.

Adults. Most adults with food poisoning can replace fluids and electrolytes with liquids such as

  • water
  • fruit juices with water added to dilute the juice
  • sports drinks
  • broths

Eating saltine crackers can also help replace electrolytes.

Older adults, adults with a weakened immune system, and adults with severe diarrhea or symptoms of dehydration should drink oral rehydration solutions, such as Pedialyte, Naturalyte, Infalyte, and CeraLyte. Oral rehydration solutions are liquids that contain glucose and electrolytes.

Children. If your child has food poisoning, you should give your child an oral rehydration solution—such as Pedialyte, Naturalyte, Infalyte, and CeraLyte—as directed. Talk with a doctor about giving these solutions to your infant. Infants should drink breast milk or formula as usual.

Over-the-counter medicines

In some cases, adults can take over-the-counter medicines such as loperamide (Imodium) and bismuth subsalicylate (Pepto-Bismol, Kaopectate) to treat diarrhea caused by food poisoning.

These medicines can be dangerous for infants and children. Talk with a doctor before giving your child an over-the-counter medicine.

If you have bloody diarrhea or fever—signs of infections with bacteria or parasites—don’t use over-the-counter medicines to treat diarrhea. See a doctor for treatment.

How do doctors treat food poisoning?

To treat food poisoning caused by bacteria or parasites, your doctor may prescribe antibiotics or medicines that target parasites, in addition to rehydration solutions.

In some cases, doctors may recommend probiotics. Probiotics are live microbes, most often bacteria, that may be similar to microbes you normally have in your digestive tract. Studies suggest that some probiotics may help shorten a bout of diarrhea. Researchers are still studying the use of probiotics to treat food poisoning. For safety reasons, talk with your doctor before using probiotics or any other complementary or alternative medicines or practices. This is especially important when children, older adults, or those with weak immune systems have diarrhea.

Doctors may need to treat people with life-threatening symptoms and complications—such as severe dehydration, hemolytic uremic syndrome, or paralysis—in a hospital.

How can I prevent food poisoning?

You can prevent some food poisoning by properly storing, cooking, cleaning, and handling foods. For example,

  • keep raw meat, poultry, seafood, and eggs separate from other foods
  • prepare salads and refrigerate them before handling raw meat, poultry, seafood, or eggs
  • promptly refrigerate or freeze foods that can spoil
  • wash your hands with soap and water before and after handling food
  • wash fruits and vegetables before eating, cutting, or cooking
  • cook foods long enough and at high enough temperatures to kill harmful microbes
  • wash utensils and surfaces after each use
  • don’t eat foods that can spoil that have been sitting out for more than 2 hours, or in temperatures over 90 degrees, for more than 1 hour
a person using a meat thermometer to measure the internal temperature of meat.
Cook foods long enough and at high enough temperatures to kill harmful microbes.

Food safety is especially important for people who are more likely to get food poisoning and related complications, including

  • infants and children
  • pregnant women and their fetuses
  • older adults
  • people with weak immune systems

Find tips on food safety for people in these groups.

Food recalls

You can help prevent food poisoning by watching for food recalls. Companies recall foods—take foods off the market—if they find out that the foods could make people sick. If you learn that a food was recalled because it could cause food poisoning, check to see if you have the food. If you do, make sure no one eats it. You can return the food to the store or dispose of it.

Learn more about recently recalled foods.

Travelers’ diarrhea

To reduce your chances of getting travelers’ diarrhea when traveling to developing countries, avoid eating or drinking the following

  • unbottled or untreated water. Also avoid brushing your teeth with unbottled or untreated water. Tap, well, lake, or river water may contain microbes.
  • ice, foods, and drinks prepared with untreated tap or well water.
  • unpasteurized juice, milk, and milk products like cheese or yogurt. Pasteurization kills harmful microbes.
  • food or drinks from street vendors.
  • warm food that was not served hot.
  • raw or undercooked meat, fish, or shellfish.
  • raw vegetables and fruits that you have not washed in clean water or peeled yourself.

If you are worried about travelers’ diarrhea, talk with your doctor before traveling. Your doctor may recommend ways that you can treat local water to kill or remove harmful microbes. Your doctor may also recommend that you bring antibiotics with you in case you get diarrhea during your trip. Early treatment with antibiotics can shorten a case of travelers’ diarrhea. Doctors may prescribe an antibiotic such as rifaximin (Xifaxan) or rifamycin (Aemcolo) to treat adults with travelers’ diarrhea caused by certain strains of Escherichia coli (E. coli) who do not have fever or blood in the stool. For severe travelers’ diarrhea, your doctor may prescribe azithromycin (Zithromax, Zmax) or ciprofloxacin (Cipro).

Doctors may advise some people—especially people with weakened immune systems—to take antibiotics before and during a trip to help prevent travelers’ diarrhea.

June 2019
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This content is provided as a service of the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases (NIDDK), part of the National Institutes of Health. The NIDDK translates and disseminates research findings through its clearinghouses and education programs to increase knowledge and understanding about health and disease among patients, health professionals, and the public. Content produced by the NIDDK is carefully reviewed by NIDDK scientists and other experts.