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Our Health Information Database is provided by A.D.A.M. the leading provider of electronic and printed information for professionals and consumers in healthcare and industry. It provides authoritative, reliable content written and reviewed by an editorial board who represent a variety of specialty areas. This board reviews and evaluates all healthcare information to ensure it is accurate, reliable, and can be used with complete confidence. And now you have access to the same authoritative, trusted clinical information relied upon by health professionals around the world.
Staph aureus food poisoning


Staph aureus food poisoning is an illness that results from eating food contaminated with a toxin produced by the Staphylococcus aureus bacteria.

Alternative Names

Causes, incidence, and risk factors

Staphylococcus aureus food poisoning is often caused when a food handler contaminates food products that are served or stored at room- or refrigerator temperature. Common examples of such foods are desserts (especially custards and cream-filled or topped desserts), salads (especially those containing mayonnaise, such as tuna salad, potato salad, and macaroni salad), poultry and other egg products, and casseroles.

The bacteria produce a toxin in the food, which causes most of the symptoms. Risk factors include:

  • Eating food that was prepared by a person with a skin infection (these infections commonly contain Staphylococcus aureus bacteria)
  • Eating food kept at room temperature
  • Eating improperly prepared food
  • Eating the same food as someone who has symptoms

The disease is common in the U.S.


Symptoms usually appear within 1 - 6 hours after eating contaminated food. Usually, symptoms last only 2 days or less. They may include:

  • Nausea
  • Vomiting for up to 24 hours
  • Diarrhea
  • Loss of appetite
  • Severe abdominal cramps
  • Abdominal distention
  • Mild fever

Signs and tests

A stool culture (if performed) is positive for Staph aureus.


The goal of treatment is to replace fluids and electrolytes (salt and minerals) lost by vomiting or diarrhea. Antidiarrheal medications may be used, but are often not needed.

To avoid dehydration, you or your child should drink water and electrolyte solutions to replace fluids lost by vomiting. A variety of pleasant-tasting electrolyte solutions are available over-the-counter. Solutions to try for children:

  • Pedialyte and Infalyte
  • Popsicles or Jello

People with diarrhea who are unable to take fluids by mouth because of nausea or vomiting may need intravenous fluids. This is true especially for small children.

People taking diuretics ("water pills") may need to stop taking them during the acute episode. Ask your health care provider for instructions.

Support Groups

Expectations (prognosis)

Full recovery is expected. Recovery usually occurs in 24 to 48 hours.


Dehydration can develop.

Calling your health care provider

Call your health care provider if:

  • Diarrhea contains blood or mucus
  • Diarrhea develops within 1 week of travel outside of the United States, or after a camping trip (the diarrhea may be due to bacteria or parasites that need treatment)
  • You have diarrhea and also experience vomiting episodes, fever, or abdominal cramping
  • Diarrhea is severe, or lasts longer than 2 - 3 days
  • Diarrhea in a child keeps returning, or the child is losing weight
  • The child has signs of dehydration (call immediately)


Wash your hands thoroughly before and after all food preparation. Thoroughly wash food preparation implements before using them on other foods. Refrigerate meats and leftovers promptly. Food can become contaminated by juices from poultry and other meats.


Pigott DC. Foodborne illness. Emerg Med Clin North Am. 2008;26:475-497.

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    Review Date: 10/15/2009

    Review By: David C. Dugdale, III, MD, Professor of Medicine, Division of General Medicine, Department of Medicine, University of Washington School of Medicine. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, A.D.A.M., Inc.

    The information provided herein should not be used during any medical emergency or for the diagnosis or treatment of any medical condition. A licensed medical professional should be consulted for diagnosis and treatment of any and all medical conditions. Call 911 for all medical emergencies. Links to other sites are provided for information only -- they do not constitute endorsements of those other sites. © 1997- 2010 A.D.A.M., Inc. Any duplication or distribution of the information contained herein is strictly prohibited.
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