I'm trying to understand more about the type of food poisoning caused by toxins that were present in the food at the time it was eaten, that can quickly cause diarrhoea and vomiting that may only last until the toxins have left the body, and isn't associated with any ongoing bacterial or viral infection.

ie this excludes pathogens that cause ongoing symptoms such as salmonella, norovirus etc.

If I understand correctly, the chemical toxins in the food in this situation can become present before cooking, as cooking does not destroy them. They can also accumulate in cooked food that is kept too long outside of safe temperature ranges.

Is there specific terminology for this type of food poisoning?

Edit: This article on Staphylococcus aureus from Ohio State University discusses the exact situation relating to this question:

The toxin produced by staph bacteria is very heat-stable—it is not easily destroyed by heat at normal cooking temperatures. The bacteria themselves may be killed, but the toxin remains. Re-heating foods, even at high temperatures, that have been contaminated with toxins will NOT make them safe to eat!

I'd also be interested to know if there are pathogens other than staphylococcus aureus that can cause a similar effect.

  • 1
    Not that I am aware of, there are specific terms used for specific situations such as "toxic shellfish poisoning" but I don't think a distinction is made between a toxin produced in the body and one ingested, as you can't determine this without further testing which would be well beyond the capabilities of most labs and completely unnecessary in most cases.
    – bob1
    Aug 10, 2022 at 22:49
  • I agree with @bob1. I don't think there's a specific term for that type of food poisoning, but it's very hard or even impossible to prove a negative.
    – Carey Gregory
    Aug 11, 2022 at 0:39
  • @CareyGregory and bob1, thanks for your comments. I've edited the question to add some more information about how staphylococcus aureus in particular relates to my question. Aug 11, 2022 at 5:31
  • I would consider botulism to be the classic example of the class of poisoning you're talking about. Agree with bob that most often these things are described by the specific illness/cause rather than as a broader category.
    – Bryan Krause
    Aug 11, 2022 at 15:17

1 Answer 1


The Australian Department of Health differentiates between pre-formed toxins and those that are synthesized while the bacterial are inside the host:

Preformed toxins are produced by Staphylococcus aureus and Bacillus cereus (emetic toxin).1,2 These toxins are formed in the food and are resistant to heat, so the risk of illness is not removed by cooking.3,4 Onset of illness is rapid, between 30 minutes and 6 hours, and vomiting is the most commonly reported symptom.3 In vivo toxins are produced by Clostridium perfringens and B. cereus (diarrhoeal toxin), and are formed in the digestive tract after food containing the bacteria is consumed. While adequately cooking food can kill the bacterial vegetative cells, both C. perfringens and B. cereus produce heat-resistant spores that can survive cooking and subsequently regerminate after cooking. Onset of illness is between 6 and 16 hours. Diarrhoea is commonly reported and vomiting is not common.5,6

Based on the article, I believe it would be reasonable to call disease caused by preformed toxins "Preformed bacterial toxin-mediated foodborn illness".

The report provides interesting stats on organisms, toxin type, and contributing factors.

  • 1
    Another phrasing I've seen is "non-infectious" food poisoning, though of course in some cases it's going to be a bit gray as you could easily have an illness primarily caused by preformed toxins yet the infectious agent is still present and alive, and also "non-infectious" includes non-biological sources of toxins that find their way into food.
    – Bryan Krause
    Aug 11, 2022 at 15:15

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