I don't understand what food poisoning is. I've heard that it's something to do with too much bacteria that produce toxins in the body:

Food poisoning is a common...and sometimes life-threatening problem for... people... throughout the world. People infected with food-borne organisms may... have symptoms ranging from mild intestinal discomfort to severe dehydration and bloody diarrhea. Depending on the type of infection, people can even die as a result of food poisoning

It is associated with, for example, Campylobacter, Salmonella, Shigella, E. coli O157:H7, Listeria, botulism, and norovirus.

If that's the case, then wouldn't it just be called an infection instead of food poisoning?

1 Answer 1


Food poisoning is something of a catch-all term for any one of a number of infections caused by microbial contamination of food - it should be noted that it is not necessarily just bacterial contaminants. For example, Norovirus is actually the most common food-borne pathogen in the United States.

As for why not just calling it an infection, there are two reasons:

  1. It is possible to get food poisoning from microbially produced toxins within food even without an active infection. For example, enterotoxins might be present in sufficient quantities to produce clinical illness even if the bacteria that produced them are dead.
  2. The two are not mutually exclusive - food poisoning relates more to a common exposure source (food), and a collection of similar symptoms, such as nausea, diarrhea and vomiting, and especially in mild cases, similar treatments.

Although food poisoning may be caused by an infection, it's mainly a syndromic description of a disease.

  • @DaveL Basically you seem to be partially suggesting that calling something "Food poisoning" precludes also calling it an infection.
    – Fomite
    Commented Apr 26, 2015 at 0:32
  • @DaveL I'm not seeing that.
    – Fomite
    Commented Apr 26, 2015 at 3:32
  • Calling it "food poisoning" (or the even older term "ptomaine") predates the germ theory of disease. Food poisoning can be either due to bacterially produced toxins, or due to upper GI infection by bacteria in the contaminated food. As Dave says, food poisoning is a syndrome with multiple causes - infectious or toxic.
    – DrRandy
    Commented Apr 29, 2015 at 13:12

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