Staph food poisoning is a gastrointestinal illness caused by eating foods contaminated with toxins produced by the bacterium Staphylococcus aureus (Staph) bacteria.
About 25% of people and animals have Staph on their skin and in their nose. It usually does not cause illness in healthy people, but Staph has the ability to make toxins that can cause food poisoning.
People who carry Staph can contaminate food if they don’t wash their hands before touching it. If food is contaminated with Staph, the bacteria can multiply in the food and produce toxins that can make people ill. Staph bacteria are killed by cooking, but the toxins are not destroyed and will still be able to cause illness.
Foods that are not cooked after handling, such as sliced meats, puddings, pastries, and sandwiches, are especially risky if contaminated with Staph.
Food contaminated with Staph toxin may not smell bad or look spoiled.
What are the symptoms of Staph food poisoning?
- Staph food poisoning is characterized by a sudden start of nausea, vomiting, and stomach cramps. Most people also have diarrhea.
- Symptoms usually develop within 30 minutes to 8 hours after eating or drinking an item containing Staph toxin, and last no longer than 1 day. Severe illness is rare.
- The illness cannot be passed from one person to another.
You can suspect Staph food poisoning based on the type of symptoms and their fast resolution. Although laboratory tests can detect toxin-producing Staph in stool, vomit, and foods, these tests are usually not ordered except during an outbreak. If you think you might have Staph food poisoning and are experiencing severe symptoms, contact your health care provider.