We’ve all heard the term food poisoning, but few know much about it. Other terms you may hear for this include staphylococcus aureus bacteria in food, food-borne staph, or staph food poisoning.

Symptoms of food poisoning don’t come from the bacteria themselves, but from the toxins they release into foods that are left out at room temperature. These toxins are resistant to heat, so re-cooking food that has been sitting out will not prevent you from getting staph food poisoning.

How Staph Food Poisoning Spreads

Staph food poisoning is food-borne. It occurs when a person consumes a food that is contaminated with staph aureus bacteria or its toxins. It can be found in meat products, poultry and egg products, mayonnaise-based salads, cream-filled pastries, and other dairy products. It can also withstand higher salt levels than most other bacteria, so it can also live in cured foods, such as ham.

Staph food poisoning usually occurs as a result of human contamination by touching food with dirty hands, or through coughing or sneezing into foods that are ready to eat. After the food is contaminated, it sits out and the organism multiplies, resulting in levels of toxin that are high enough to cause symptoms.

Who’s at Risk?

Everybody! Staph food poisoning is extremely common and has been reported in several outbreaks in the United States over the past few years. However, the actual number of people who get infected each year is unknown due to difficulties in diagnosis and poor responses from affected individuals during scientific investigations.


Individuals with staph food poisoning experience explosive nausea and vomiting, and sometimes diarrhea, along with severe abdominal pain, starting within 30 minutes to eight hours of eating the contaminated food and lasting about one day.


Basic treatment of staph food poisoning involves staying hydrated, controlling your fever (if any), and waiting things out. The infection will usually resolve itself without the need for medication. Deaths related to staph food poisoning are very rare, but have occurred in elderly people, infants, and other individuals who have weakened immune systems.


The best way to prevent food poisoning is to use safe cooking and dining practices. Don’t drink unpasteurized milk, and don’t eat food that has been sitting out at room temperature for more than two hours. When in doubt, just pass! It’s also important to wash your hands frequently.

Article written by Karen Firsching, RN, Women’s Services