Staph aureus food poisoning

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

Causes, incidence, and risk factors 

Staphlococcus aureus food poisoning is often caused when a food handler contaminates food products such as desserts, salads, or baked goods (especially custards, mayonnaise, and cream-filled or topped desserts) that are served or stored at room or refrigerator temperature.

The bacteria multiplies rapidly in the food, and a large colony of bacteria may be present without evidence of food spoilage. Risk factors include ingestion of food prepared by a person with a skin infection, ingestion of food kept at room temperature, ingestion of improperly prepared food, and symptoms occurring in persons eating the same food.

Symptoms usually appear within 4 to 6 hours. The disease is common in the U.S.


  • 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 objective of treatment is to replace fluids and electrolytes (salt and minerals) lost by Vomiting or diarrhea. Antidiarrheal medications are generally not needed.

Self-care measures to avoid dehydration include drinking water and electrolyte solutions to replace fluids lost by Vomiting. A variety of pleasant-tasting electrolyte solutions are available over-the-counter.

People with diarrhea who are unable to take fluids by mouth because of nausea or Vomiting may need intravenous fluids, especially small children.

People taking diuretics need to be cautious with Vomiting and diarrhea and may need to stop taking the diuretic during the acute episode as directed by the health care provider.

Expectations (prognosis) 
The outcome is expected to be excellent. Recovery usually occurs in 24 to 48 hours.

Dehydration can develop.

Calling your health care provider 
Call your health care provider if symptoms do not resolve in 48 hours, severe dehydration develops, blood in stools is noted, or if other new symptoms develop.

Wash the hands thoroughly before and after all food preparation. Food preparation implements should be thoroughly washed before they are used on other foods. Refrigerate meats and leftovers promptly. Food can become contaminated by juices from poultry.

Johns Hopkins patient information

Last revised: December 3, 2012
by Levon Ter-Markosyan, D.M.D.

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