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Staph Poisoning

Soap and water: These two simple ingredients are essential in preventing one of the most common kinds of foodborne illness. Many people have the bacteria Staphylococcus aureus (staph) on their hands, even if they’re healthy. If they prepare food without washing their hands, they can contaminate the food they are preparing—which can lead to staph poisoning. That’s why it’s so important to wash your hands or wear gloves when preparing food.

IPC advises everyone follow these steps before preparing food:

  1. Wet your hands with clean water.
  2. Lather your hands thoroughly with soap.
  3. Scrub your hands for at least 20 seconds, getting between your fingers and under your fingernails
  4. Rinse with water.
  5. Dry your hands well.

Proper food storage is also key in preventing staph poisoning: Keep hot foods hot and cold foods cold. Refrigerate cooked food within two hours of preparation.

How do you get staph poisoning?

If someone prepares food with contaminated hands, but then cooks the food immediately and doesn’t touch it again, you are less likely to get staph poisoning. If cooked food is touched with contaminated hands and then stored at the wrong temperature, it can cause food poisoning. Since the toxin is heat-resistant, reheating the food will not prevent illness if the food has been improperly stored.

If someone prepares food with contaminated hands and the food is not cooked afterward—like sandwiches, cold cuts or food containing dairy—you are most likely to become sick.

People who are experiencing gastrointestinal illness should not prepare food for others.

Symptoms typically appear within 2-6 hours after eating contaminated food:

  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Stomach cramps
  • Diarrhea

Symptoms may last anywhere from several hours or up to a few days after infection. Staph usually results in mild illness, but some people can get severe symptoms—especially immunocompromised individuals.

What to do if you get sick:

  • Drink plenty of fluids.
  • Seek medical attention if your symptoms are severe.
  • Note: Antibiotics are not useful in treating staph poisoning.

IPC is here to help. Calls to our helpline, 1-800-222-1222, are free and confidential. Toxicology experts are available to answer your questions 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

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