Staphylococcal Food Intoxication (Staphylococcus aureus)

Staphylococcal Food Intoxication (Staphylococcus aureus)Staphylococcus aureus is a common bacteria found on humans and animals that can produce toxins that often cause food poisoning. Staphylococcal food intoxication is an intoxication (not an infection) of abrupt and sometimes violent onset. Staphylococcal food intoxication is widespread and occurs frequently. About 30% of people are believed to be carriers of the germ.

Image Content Provider: CDC/DPDx - Melanie Moser


Symptoms occur suddenly, sometimes in as little as 30 minutes after eating contaminated food. They include severe nausea, cramps, vomiting and often diarrhea. In most cases the illness is short-lived usually lasting not longer than one to two days.


Staphylococcal food intoxication is caused by eating contaminated food.  The most common way for food to become contaminated with the bacteria is through contact with food workers who carry the bacteria or through contaminated milk or cheeses.  The staphylococcal bacteria are resistant to heat and cannot be destroyed by cooking.  Common foods that can become contaminated are pastries, custards, salad dressings, sandwiches, sliced meat and meat products.


The toxin is not affected by antibiotics, thus antibiotics are not useful. Plenty of rest, plenty of fluids and medications to calm the stomach are recommended. Those most at risk for severe illness such as young children, the elderly and individuals with a weakened immune system may require intravenous therapy and care in the hospital.


Staphylococcal food intoxication can be prevented by practicing safe handling and proper storage of food, frequent hand washing with soap and water, keeping kitchens and food serving areas clean and sanitized, and educating food handlers in strict food hygiene.

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