Food Poisoning in Children: Everything Parents Need To Be Aware of by Dr. Chetan Ginigeri

6 min read

Written by Editorial Team

Editorial Team


Food Poisoning in Children

Your little kid has to be taken care of minutely. Carelessness can lead to unwanted situations that cause discomfort to the child and the parents. Food poisoning in children is one such situation that can turn quite troublesome if you don’t pay attention to what your child is eating. Food poisoning in young children is a cause for concern since they have an immature immune system and may not be capable of fighting off strong forms of food poisoning.

As a parent, you take every step to ensure that your child is protected and comfortable. Even after that, if your child gets food poisoning, then what will you do? In this article, we discuss everything you need to know about food poisoning and how you can prevent it for your little one.

In This Article

What is Food Poisoning?

Food poisoning is often the result of a bacterial infection. Sometimes, it can also happen due to viruses and germs. These microbes can get into the food you eat and drink and result in your falling sick. It is almost impossible to see or feel the germs.

Despite their microscopic size, they can have a huge negative effect on health. When these germs get into food, they release toxins, which are poisonous and can lead to diarrhea or vomiting. In certain cases, food poisoning can lead to dehydration too.

Food Poisoning Timeline

The signs and symptoms of food poisoning in the affected child can start anywhere from an hour to three days after eating contaminated or undercooked food. However, the appearance, duration, and intensity of the symptoms will vary from one child to another.

It depends on the immunity level and health conditions of the child, and the amount and kind of pathogen involved. If the child is experiencing certain health conditions like renal issues and sickle cell anemia, food poisoning can turn out to be even more serious.

What are the Signs and Symptoms of Food Poisoning?

signs of food poisoning

The symptoms of food poisoning depend on the causative germs. Once a child eats contaminated food, they will start to feel sick within one or two hours. However, there are cases when they may not feel sick for many weeks after eating contaminated food. But, in general, the symptoms will start appearing within one and a half weeks. Some symptoms your child could be having are mentioned below:

  • Abdominal pain
  • Diarrhea
  • Vomiting
  • Headache
  • Fever
  • Nausea
  • Weakness

Causes of Food Poisoning

When someone eats or drinks contaminated food, he or she is bound to get food poisoning. Animal foods get contaminated quite often. However, eating unwashed vegetables and food can also be a reason for food poisoning. Following are top reasons that bring about food poisoning in children:

  • Eating raw, uncooked foods
  • Drinking contaminated water

The contamination of food can happen at various stages of food production. For instance:

  • Poultry or meat getting in contact with germs during shipping or processing.
  • Foods are being stored at the wrong temperature.
  • Food handlers not washing their hands and utensils properly.
  • Undercooked food.
  • Cross-contamination.
[Read : Immunity Boosting Foods For Kids]

What Germs Cause Food Poisoning?

germs causing food poisoning

Following germs are more often responsible for food poisoning in children:

1. Salmonella

Salmonella can contaminate animal products and vegetables as well. Proper cleaning and cooking are essential to avoid getting food poisoning from salmonella.

2. E. Coli (Escherichia Coli)

This type of food poisoning happens from contaminated food and water, especially undercooked meat. Children are especially susceptible to E.coli poisoning due to an immature digestive system. Diarrhea is one of the most common symptoms in this kind of food poisoning.

3. Listeria

Listeria is contamination that often grows and multiplies in refrigerator conditions. Deli meats and unpasteurized milk are the most common sources of this type of contamination. Diarrhea, fever, and muscle aches are the common symptoms.

4. Campylobacter

This bacterium grows and thrives in undercooked food and also spreads through contaminated water. Symptoms are similar to gastroenteritis.

5. Staphylococcus Aureus

Staph food poisoning is one of the most common types of food poisoning and can be risky because cooking the contaminated food cannot get rid of the toxins. Undercooked and cold meats can carry these bacteria. The bacteria multiply quite quickly and food handlers who do not wash their hands and utensils properly can spread the bacteria to many people.

[Read : MRSA in Children]

When Should I Call the Doctor?

when to call doctor

In general, food poisoning will not even require a doctor’s attention to get treated. However, there are some conditions where you need to take your child to a doctor. One of the most common reasons for which you may have to take your kids to a doctor is diarrhea.  The symptoms that will indicate that your child needs a doctor’s attention are the following:

  • Vomiting periodically for more than 12 hours
  • Diarrhea with a high fever of or above 101oF
  • Blood in vomiting and stool
  • Increased heartbeat

Apart from these, keep a closer eye on the signs of dehydration such as:

  • Lack of urine
  • Frequent and extreme thirst
  • Weakness or light-headedness
  • Dizziness

Also, if your family has returned home recently from a foreign trip and your kid has had diarrhea since then, you should not wait to call your doctor.

How is Food Poisoning Diagnosed?

The doctor will first ask what your kid had eaten since the time the child was getting the symptoms. The doctors will then take a sample of the kid’s urine, stool, or blood and send it to a lab for testing. This will help the doctor zero in on the cause of the situation.

How is Food Poisoning Treated?

Generally, food poisoning in children gets better with time. However, in some severe cases, they may be put on antibiotics by the doctor. In worst cases of food poisoning and dehydration, your child may need to be hospitalized and given intravenous fluids to bring the situation under control.

At-Home Care

at home care

Food poisoning will go away with time. In the meantime, make sure your child:

  • Gets a good amount of rest
  • Drinks plenty of fluids, preferably in small, frequent sips.
  • Avoids dairy and solid foods

Never give OTC anti-diarrhea medicines to your child. This will aggravate the food poisoning symptoms. Self-medication may not be safe. When in doubt, always consult your doctor.

[Read : Teaching Children The Importance Of Hand Washing]

How Can We Prevent Food Poisoning?

A few tips and measures will help your child and the rest of your family away from food poisoning.

  • Always wash hands properly.
  • Clean the utensils well and maintain hygiene.
  • Do not serve unpasteurized milk.
  • Avoid eating raw vegetables.
  • Keep raw food away from cooked ones.
  • Eliminate the chances of cross-contamination.
  • Make sure the eggs are properly cooked before serving them to children.
  • Never encourage children to eat from roadside vendors.

When you see your child getting affected by food poisoning, contact your doctor immediately to cure it and give some respite to your little one. Most cases of food poisoning tend to be mild and go away with time and a few precautions. However, moderate to severe cases will need immediate medical intervention.


1. How Long Does Food Poisoning Last?

Food poisoning in children may begin within hours, days, or sometimes even weeks after the child eats the contaminated food. Most food poisoning symptoms last anywhere between a few hours to several days.

2. How Do You Confirm Food Poisoning?

The symptoms of food poisoning are determined by the source of contamination. Children who have food poisoning might exhibit the following symptoms:

  • Feeling sick (nausea)
  • Fever
  • Stomach cramps and pain
  • Throwing up
  • Diarrhea
  • Headache and general weakness

3. How Quickly Does Food Poisoning Make You Sick?

Food poisoning can make you feel ill within an hour or two. On the other hand, there are cases in which the symptoms may not appear after a couple of weeks.

Read Also: Gastroenteritis in Children: Causes and Treatment

Editorial Team,

With a rich experience in pregnancy and parenting, our team of experts create insightful, well-curated, and easy-to-read content for our to-be-parents and parents at all stages of parenting.Read more.

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