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How long does it take to develop food poisoning?


LeeAnn Denny, MD, is a family-medicine resident at Banner Good Samaritan Medical Center in Phoenix.

Question: I bought fresh corn on the cob from a local grocery. Three days later, I boiled two ears for four minutes and ate it at 2 p.m. Three hours later I was vomiting and had diarrhea. By 7 p.m. was getting better. Can one get food poisoning from corn on the cob that has been refrigerated?  

Answer: It is certainly possible to get food poisoning from refrigerated corn on the cob, but more likely food sources would include potato salad, under-cooked poultry, meat or seafood. 

It would also be wise to look at the other foods you ate that day to be sure you were not missing another possible cause of your vomiting and diarrhea.

Given the short time period between your consumption of the suspect corn and your symptoms, the culprit was likely toxins produced by bacteria.

Bacteria can cause vomiting and diarrhea, or gastroenteritis, through two main methods.  First, bacteria can multiply on a given food and cause gastrointestinal infection.  However this type of infection takes a few days to develop because the bacteria need time to multiply. 

The second method by which bacteria cause vomiting and diarrhea is through the production of toxins.  Bacteria can generate and release toxins which can cause vomiting and diarrhea even if the bacteria are killed.  Examples of these bacteria are Clostridium botulinum, (the toxin used in Botox injections), Staphylococcus aureus, and Bacillus cereus (especially in reheated rice).

To avoid foodborne illness, it is important to refrigerate food, wash all vegetables before preparing or serving, cook foods at appropriate temperatures, to wash hands before cooking and to wash hands, countertops and utensils after they have come in contact with raw meats.  Also avoid leaving perishable foods out unrefrigerated for extended periods of time.

Reviewed June 2010

Page Last Modified: 06/03/2010
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