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Food Poisoning Incubation Period: How Long Do I Have to Wait?

Medically reviewed by Jezreel Esguerra, MD · General Practitioner


Written by Hazel Caingcoy · Updated Oct 30, 2022

Food Poisoning Incubation Period: How Long Do I Have to Wait?

The most common cause of food poisoning or foodborne illnesses is food contaminated with viruses, bacteria, and even parasites. Contamination can occur anytime from when the food is harvested, up to when it is packaged and sold. Bacteria and viruses can even contaminate the food after it is brought home. Different contaminants have a different incubation period and timings to when the symptoms they bring occurs. Learn more here.

Food Poisoning Incubation Period

Our gut is a great breeding ground for bacteria and viruses. It contains bacteria that aid in digestion. It is also where most food and nutrients are broken down for absorption. When invasive microorganisms enter the gut in small number, they don’t immediately cause harm. They incubate and grow before they cause signs and symptoms of food poisoning.

Incubation period of the contaminants greatly vary. Different bacteria and viruses can cause an onset of symptoms hours after ingestion while some can even take days or even weeks.  The severity of the condition may also vary depending on what microorganism contaminated the food. Other bacteria and viruses may cause fever and stomach cramps only, while others may cause additional symptoms like diarrhea and vomiting.

Common Foodborne Illnesses and Their Food Poisoning Incubation Periods

Anisakis simplex

Anisakis simplex is a parasite that have life cycles involving fish and marine mammals. They can infect humans when we consume infected marine animals. It usually takes 12 hours for the symptoms to manifest. But it can take as long as few days in some cases. This is usually acquired by eating saltwater fish, and can cause symptoms such as cough and abdominal pain.

Bacillus cereus

This is one of the most common contaminants that cause food poisoning, as it can be found on vegetables and in many raw and processed foods. Its incubation period is generally categorized into 2: Emetic form, which usually occurs after 2-3 hours, and diarrheal form, which usually occurs after 8-12 hours. Its symptoms may include watery diarrhea, moderate nausea that may accompany diarrhea, abdominal pain, seldom vomiting and no fever.

Campylobacteriosis

This is a diarrheal disease caused by bacteria particularly Campylobacter species. It can be found in animals such as cattle, poultry, pigs, wild mammals and wild birds. The most common way of getting infected is by consuming contaminated food (mainly poultry) or drinking water. It usually takes 2 to 5 days before the onset of symptoms. its symptoms typically include fever, nausea, diarrhea (frequently bloody), abdominal pain and sometimes vomiting. In some more serious cases, it can mimic other conditions such as acute appendicitis or ulcerative colitis.

Botulism

Symptoms usually manifest only after 18-36 hours of eating contaminated food, but may range from 6 hours to 10 days. You may get this by eating honey, bulging canned food, potatoes baked in aluminum foil, and fermented fish. Botulism is a medical emergency as it can cause respiratory failure and death if not treated. Hence, immediate action is necessary.

Perfringens food poisoning

Clostridium perfringens is one of the most common contaminants and cause of food poisoning, with an incubation period between 5–24 hours. Its symptoms commonly include diarrhea and abdominal pain. Symptoms are often self-limiting within a day. As a result, most of its cases are not reported. This is usually found in beef, poultry, and meat-based sauces left for a long time in steam tables or room temperature.

E. coli infection

Incubation period usually ranges from 3 to 8 days, with a median of 3 to 4 days. It mostly last within 10 days, where most patients recover. But in a small proportion of patients particularly young children and the elderly, this may lead to a life-threatening conditions. It is usually found in water or food contaminated with human feces. Its symptoms include watery diarrhea and abdominal cramps and pain.

Hemorrhagic colitis

This is caused by a causative agent called E. coli O157:H7. Its incubation period usually takes 3 to 4 days but can range between 1 and 10 days. Its clinical picture of infection is variable and can mimic other diseases. This can be usually found in undercooked beef, unpasteurized milk, contaminated water, juice and raw vegetables or fruits.

Hepatitis A

It takes at least 15 days and an average of 28 days before symptoms show up. It is usually found in raw food, food not heated properly, shellfish, and contaminated water. Hepatitis A can cause flu-like symptoms such abrupt onset of fever, nausea, body weakness, abdominal discomfort, anorexia, dark urine, and jaundice.

Listeriosis 

The food poisoning incubation period can take from 9 to 48 hours for diarrhea, nausea and fever to manifest. It usually takes up to 2-6 weeks before it progresses. It may cause stillbirth in pregnant women and bacteremia or meningitis in immunocompromised individuals. The bacteria can be found in unpasteurized milk and milk products.

Noroviruses

Norovirus is very contagious and is a usual cause of food poisoning. Its incubation period ranges from 12-48 hours. Noroviruses are usually found in uncooked food, contaminated water and shellfish from contaminated water. This type of food poisoning usually involves symptoms such as nausea, vomiting, watery non-bloody diarrhea with abdominal cramps. In some cases, symptoms like myalgia, body weakness, and headache are also reported.

Rotavirus

This is the most common cause of food poisoning, as well as diarrheal diseases among infants. Its incubation period usually takes 1-3 hours, and is usually found in raw meat, shellfishes and salad, or any food that is usually serve cold.  Symptoms of rotavirus infection include severe fever, watery diarrhea, vomiting, and/or abdominal pain.

Salmonella

The incubation period for salmonellosis usually takes 12. But can be as long as 72 hours or even longer. It is usually found in meat, eggs, and other dairy and poultry products. Salmonella infection involves symptoms such as sudden onset of diarrhea, abdominal cramps, fever, with occasionally nausea and vomiting. Illness usually lasts 4–7 days.

Shigellosis

Its incubation period depends on the serotype of the virus that infected you. It varies from 12 hours to 4 days, but usually takes 1–7 days. Symptoms include fever, bloody diarrhea, severe stomach cramping or tenderness, and dehydration. It can be found in uncooked food and contaminated water.

Staphylococcal food poisoning 

Symptoms usually develop within 30 minutes to 8 hours after eating or drinking an contaminated food or drinks. Illness also does not last longer than 1 day. Severe type of illness is rare. It is usually found in meats, dairy, dairy products, and produce that is not properly stored and refrigerated. This food poisoning can cause a sudden onset of severe abdominal pain and vomiting.

Vibrio parahaemolyticus infection

Incubation period usually takes 24 hours. But symptoms can start as early as 4 hours, or as late as 96 hours after ingesting the bacteria. Its symptoms include either watery or bloody diarrhea, abdominal cramps, nausea and vomiting, fever and headache. Symptoms typically lasts 1 to 7 days. And in most cases, treatment is not necessary. Severe illness is rare, is most often observed in immunocompromised patients.

Vibrio vulnificus infection

Its incubation period is short ranging from 12-72 hours. Symptoms usually include fever, watery diarrhea (but can sometimes be bloody), vomiting, headache, and abdominal cramping. Illness can last for a week. It is usually found in undercooked or raw seafood, especially oysters. Aside from diarrhea and abdominal pain, it may also cause bleeding within the skin. This infection can be fatal to those who are immunocompromised or have liver diseases.

Key takeaway

The incubation period of different food contaminants that cause food poisoning greatly varies. Same is true with the severity of symptoms it produces.

Learn more about Foodborne Infections here.

Disclaimer

Hello Health Group does not provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.

Medically reviewed by

Jezreel Esguerra, MD

General Practitioner


Written by Hazel Caingcoy · Updated Oct 30, 2022

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