Is It the Flu or Food Poisoning? How to Tell the Difference

Now that flu season is just around the corner, most of us want to take every precaution out there. One of the precautions that may be most useful is to learn how to tell the difference between if your symptoms are the flu or food poisoning. The symptoms are very similar, and both are pretty popular this time of year.

Difference of Symptoms

Both the flu and food poisoning have pretty nasty symptoms of dizziness, fatigue, vomiting, and diarrhea.  However, food poisoning doesn’t usually leave you with body aches all over, chills, or a high fever.

Timing of Symptoms

Another huge difference is that food poisoning symptoms will hit you 4-6 hours after eating bad food. Flu symptoms will start to show at about 12 hours, once your intestines are overrun with the illness. So if you go to bed and wake up with symptoms, it is a good chance it is the flu instead of food poisoning.

How Long Does Each Last?

Food poisoning lasts as long as it takes your body to rid itself of the bad food. For mild cases, you should be feeling a whole lot better within 6 hours. For more severe cases, such as E. coli, it can take up to 24 hours to rid the tainted food from your body. The flu will last between 1 and 5 days. So if your symptoms are still present after a whole day has gone by, it is more likely to be the flu than food poisoning.

Difference in Treatment

Not only are the flu and food poisoning different in symptoms, but also they are different in how they should be treated. For food poisoning, the vomiting and diarrhea are both good things. You want your body to eliminate the bad food as fast as it can naturally. However, the whole process is draining, so it is important to keep your fluids and electrolytes up. After the vomiting and diarrhea slow down, you should slowly build up your strength by eating foods that will not promote any more diarrhea, such as bananas, rice, bread, and applesauce.

With the flu, the goal is to stop the vomiting and diarrhea with over the counter medications and hydration. Ginger tea, Gatorade (or Pedialyte for kids), and chicken broth are all great sources of electrolytes and hydration.

When to See the Doctor

One last difference between the flu and food poisoning is when to see the doctor. Majority of food poisoning cases do not need to be seen by a doctor, since they are self-eliminating. There are some rare instances where you should seek emergency help immediately, and that is when there is blood in the loose stool or if you are vomiting after 48 hours. When it comes to the flu, it is very easy to become dehydrated quickly. If your vomiting persists for three days or more, your fever is very high (over 102), or if you experience any seizures, you should seek emergency care.

Both the flu and food poisoning are not ideal things to deal with, especially during the busy season. Try to prevent both as best as possible, and know how to tell the difference between the two.


Remember to always consult your chiropractor or physician before taking any health advice.

Story Credit

Used under Creative Commons Licensing courtesy of Loren Kerns