What characterizes the term “food poisoning”?
Food poisoning is the term used when a preformed toxin in food is ingested, resulting in intoxication rather than an enteric infection. Staphylococcus aureus causes vomiting within 2 to 7 hours after the ingestion of improperly cooked or stored food containing a heat-stable preformed toxin. Clostridium perfringens causes watery diarrhea without vomiting within 8 to 14 hours after the ingestion of contaminated meat, vegetables, or poultry. Strains of Bacillus cereus from contaminated fried rice, vegetable sprouts, or other food items produce one of two toxins that may result in disease resembling that caused by S. aureus or C. perfringens, depending on the toxin produced. Most cases of food poisoning are of short duration, with recovery occurring in 1 to 2 days. Although it is possible to confirm the cause of food poisoning by microbiologic methods, these are rarely used, and the diagnosis is made in nearly all cases clinically without laboratory confirmation.
New England Journal of Medicine - Vol. 361, No. 16, October 15, 2009