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Posted by: OFT Food Safety & Injury Lawyers

Without warning, you feel nauseous. Sharp stomach pain lets you know you need to find the closest restroom. Is what you’re feeling a stomach virus or food poisoning? Because these two conditions have similar symptoms, it can be tough to distinguish between them.

Keep reading to learn the differences between food poisoning and stomach viruses and why it matters.

Food Poisoning & Stomach Virus Symptoms

Food poisoning and a stomach virus share several symptoms, including:

  • Stomach or intestinal cramping
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Thirst
  • Headache
  • General discomfort

Difference in Symptoms

A stomach virus is more likely to cause joint pain, muscle aches, fever, and weight loss. Vomiting tends to be less violent than food poisoning. There is a slight delay between feeling nauseous and vomiting most of the time.

It is uncommon for individuals with food poisoning to run a fever. Food poisoning symptoms commonly include chills, sweating profusely, and projectile vomiting (sudden and particularly forceful vomiting). People with food poisoning vomit several times, often without warning.

Severe Food Poisoning Symptoms 

Individuals afflicted with a severe case of food poisoning might experience:

  • Blood in vomit or stool
  • Intense abdominal pain & cramping
  • Loss of consciousness
  • Shock
  • High fever

Onset of Symptoms 

According to the Minnesota Department of Health, symptoms of food poisoning might occur eight to 12 hours after exposure. Or, it might take one to two days before showing signs of food poisoning.

Individuals have stomach virus symptoms within 24 to 72 hours after exposure.

Duration of Illness

Some people recover from a stomach virus in a couple of days. It’s more likely to take a week or ten days for most individuals to feel “back to normal.” You might have lingering symptoms, such as a weak stomach, fatigue, headache, or weight loss.

Food poisoning symptoms usually subside within 24 to 48 hours. Recovery time depends on how much contaminated food or liquid the individual consumes and the type of pathogen.

Of course, recovering from an acute illness varies depending on an individual’s age and overall health.

Causes of Stomach Virus vs Food Poisoning

An influenza virus causes the stomach flu or stomach virus. The most common culprits include norovirus, rotavirus, and adenovirus.

Food poisoning occurs when harmful pathogens such as bacteria, viruses, parasites, or toxins contaminate food, beverages, and drinking water. An individual consumes the contaminated food and becomes ill. An outbreak occurs when many people consume contaminated food or drink.

Common Food Poisoning Pathogens

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), common pathogens in food poisoning cases include:

Risk of Contagion (Spread)

Like other viruses, stomach flu is highly contagious. The most common way to contract the virus is through direct contact with an infected person, including:

  • Sneezing
  • Coughing
  • Close physical proximity

You can also catch a stomach virus from touching something contaminated with a sick person’s stool, saliva, or vomit. Stomach viruses tend to affect every family member and other people who live in close quarters, such as dormitories.

Causes of Food Poisoning

Eating or drinking contaminated food and beverages causes food poisoning. Foodborne illnesses aren’t spread person-to-person unless you touch a food poisoning victim’s stool, saliva, or blood (or contaminated items) and then eat without washing your hands.

Sources of Contaminated Food & Beverages

Even foods that are safe to eat when properly prepared may cause illness when consumed raw or undercooked, such as red meat and poultry.

The following foods and beverages pose a greater risk for foodborne illnesses:

  • Raw seafood (fish and shellfish)
  • Undercooked or raw eggs
  • Unpasteurized, soft cheeses (Brie, feta)
  • Unpasteurized milk, juice, and cider
  • Raw bean sprouts
  • Contaminated water
  • Undercooked rice

Why Identifying Your Symptoms Is Important

When you’re sick, your most pressing desire is to feel better. However, it’s essential to know if you have food poisoning or a stomach virus for several reasons:


Both food poisoning and a stomach virus can cause dehydration. Individuals suffering from either condition should drink water or non-sugary drinks with electrolytes. Ice chips are also a good option.

However, if you have a bacterial infection, you might need to take an antibiotic. Some cases of food poisoning are severe enough to require admission to a hospital for IV fluids and medicine.

Reporting Food Poisoning

You should report suspected food poisoning so that affected distributors, manufacturers, and retailers can issue a product recall.

Compensation for Your Illness

You could be entitled to compensation for your illness and expenses for food poisoning caused by negligence or wrongdoing. You have a limited time to pursue damages for medical care, lost wages, emotional distress, and other losses.

Contact Our Food Safety & Injury Lawyers to Learn More

OFT Food Safety & Injury Lawyers has helped get compensation for thousands of clients. We pursue compensation and justice for people sickened by food poisoning through no fault of their own.

For a free consultation, call (888) 828-7087 or reach out online.

Notable Recoveries

$10 million

Seven infants were sickened after consuming a contaminated food product marketed to infants

$6.5 million

Verdict on behalf of a little boy who contracted a severe Salmonella infection from chicken

$7.55 million

Verdict on behalf of a little girl who contracted E. coli at a petting zoo

$2.25 million

E. coli infections contracted from a major fast food chain

$45 million

An over-the-counter medication caused severe kidney damage to multiple users

$3.4 million

A pregnant woman contracted a Listeria infection from contaminated fruit and passed the infection to her child

$3 million

Multistate Cyclospora outbreaks


A couple contracted Salmonella from a restaurant


A pedestrian was struck by a left-turning car, fracturing her tibia


A semi-truck rear-ended a motorcyclist causing a collapsed lung, rib fractures and road rash