Food Poisoning Vs Stomach Flu

patient with food poisoning being consulted by a doctor

Food handlers must be educated on various foodborne illnesses that could occur if food is improperly handled. One of the most commonly asked questions is the difference between stomach flu and food poisoning. We are here to answer that specific question today. To find out other food handling topics, visit our Study Guide & Practice Exam sections to best prepare for the test.

Sometimes your upset stomach may be a 12 hour ordeal or it may be something more serious. When someone says they have the stomach flu, did they really catch a bug or did they eat something suspect? Our article lays it all out.

First of all, what most people refer to as stomach flu isn’t a flu virus at all. Flu or seasonal influenza is a contagious illness that spikes during colder months out of the year that attacks our respiratory systems. It is a virus that spreads from person to person through airborne or fluid contact. More likely, a stomach issue that lasts longer than 12 hours is caused by a different virus.

Norovirus is an illness that is caused by a group of viruses that is often spread through highly densely populated areas. Cruise ships, day cares, and nursing homes are common places where this illness is found so those areas of business must be extra diligent in sanitizing. Norovirus is believed to be the cause of half of all food poisoning cases in the United States by the CDC and it is very contagious. Simply touching your mouth or rubbing your nose or eyes with the virus on your hand can lead to stomach illness. The symptoms for norovirus are:

  • Diarrhea
  • Low fever
  • Stomach pain
  • Muscle aches
  • Fatigue
  • Dehydration

Another common cause of stomach problems are bacterial contamination. Most bacteria our bodies come across are harmless or even beneficial for our well-being. However, harmful bacteria can grow rapidly on expired or contaminated foods especially in humid and warm temperatures. To avoid bacteria induced stomach illnesses, avoid eating old foods, thoroughly cook meat and seafood that is meant to be cooked, and make sure the food establishments you are eating at have up to date food handlers certificates and health department checks.

Whether your upset stomach is caused by a virus, bacteria, or some other sort of contaminant, if it came from a food source, it counts has food poisoning. Many people confuse food poisoning with stomach virus but they can be one in the same. Food poisoning refers to food contamination that may cause upset stomach symptoms in people while stomach flu is an inaccurate term commonly used to describe norovirus.

For food handlers, you must be knowledgeable to prevent a potential food poisoning outbreak. Some states may require food handlers to go through specific training and certification in demonstrating the knowledge. To find out about your state requirement, please visit our Food Handling States Requirement page.