Staphylococcus aureus (Staph) is a common bacterium found on the skin and in the noses of up to 25% of healthy people and animals.
Staphylococcus aureus is important because it has the ability to make seven different toxins that are frequently responsible for Staph food poisoning. Learn more!
What is staph food poisoning?
Staph food poisoning is a gastrointestinal illness. It is caused by eating foods contaminated with toxins produced by Staphylococcus aureus.
The most common way for food to be contaminated with Staphylococcus is through contact with food workers who carry the bacteria or through contaminated milk and cheeses.
Staphylococcus is salt tolerant and can grow in salty foods like ham. As the germ multiplies in food, it produces toxins that can cause illness. Staphylococcal toxins are resistant to heat and cannot be destroyed by cooking.
Foods at highest risk of contamination with Staphylococcus aureus and subsequent toxin production are those that are made by hand and require no cooking.
Some examples of foods that have caused staph food poisoning are sliced meat, puddings, some pastries and sandwiches.
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.
How do I know if I have staph food poisoning?
Toxin-producing Staphylococcus aureus can be identified in stool or vomit, and toxin can be detected in food items. Diagnosis of staph food poisoning in an individual is generally based only on the signs and symptoms of the patient.
Testing for the toxin-producing bacteria or the toxin is not usually done in individual patients. Testing is usually reserved for outbreaks involving several persons.
If you think you may have food poisoning, contact your physician.
How should a patient with suspected staph food poisoning be treated?
For most patients, staphylococcal food poisoning will cause a brief illness. The best treatments for these patients are rest, plenty of fluids, and medicines to calm their stomachs.
Highly susceptible patients, such as the young and the elderly, are more likely to have severe illness requiring intravenous therapy and care in a hospital.
Antibiotics are not useful in treating this illness. The toxin is not affected by antibiotics.
Preventing staph foodborne illness
It is important to prevent the contamination of food with Staphylococcus before the toxin can be produced.