Food poisoning, also referred to as food-borne illness, is a gastrointestinal disorder that results from eating contaminated food. Infectious organisms — including various bacteria, viruses and parasites — are the most common cause of food poisoning. Harmful toxins and chemicals (noninfectious agents) also can cause illnesses, but this is less common.
Infectious organisms can contaminate food at any point during its processing or production. Contamination can also occur at home if food is incorrectly handled, improperly cooked or inadequately stored. Whether you become sick after eating contaminated food depends on the organism in the food, the amount of exposure you've had to it, your age and your health.
Food poisoning symptoms include nausea, vomiting and diarrhea, which can start just hours after eating the food. Most often, food poisoning is mild and resolves without treatment. But some cases can be severe, requiring hospitalization.
What can you do to prevent food poisoning? Keep hot food hot and cold food cold. And keep everything — especially your hands — clean. If you follow these basic rules, you'll be less likely to become ill from food poisoning.