Stomach flu and food poisoning are different ailments with different causes, but people often mistake one for the other because their symptoms are similar. They also share some basic preventive measures.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimate 48 million Americans, roughly one in six, become ill due to food poisoning each year. Of those millions, 128,000 are hospitalized and 3,000 actually die from this condition.

Foodborne illness is spread through contaminated food, water, surfaces, person to person or objects that come in contact with a contagion. The symptoms of a food poisoning can include:

  • Diarrhea, vomiting, nausea, cramping, stomach pain, low-grade fever, chills, fatigue, headache and body ache – all very similar to symptoms of the flu.

Flu symptoms usually include feverish chills, cough, sore throat, runny or stuffy nose – along with many of the symptoms. Stomach flu is usually caused by a viral infection in the digestive system. With all these similarities, it’s easy to understand the confusion between food poisoning and stomach flu.

Food poisoning is caused by bacteria, parasites and viruses that grow on food and surfaces when it is not handled, stored or cleaned properly. Bacteria growth on certain foods (meats, dairy, sauces) can happen rapidly. A good indication of food poisoning is if the symptoms are shared by others who ate the same food as you. These symptoms may not manifest for six to 48 hours.

Use these helpful tips to reduce the risk of stomach flu and food poisoning:

  • Frequent hand washing can help prevent contamination of food and reduce your risk of bacterial contamination
  • Clean surfaces around food prep area to reduce chances of bacteria spreading
  • Clean hands and surfaces after handling raw meat and eggs to prevent cross-contamination with ready-to-eat foods
  • Defrost meats in the refrigerator or by microwaving, not by leaving the products on the counter
  • Use the 2-40-140 rule for meats, dressings, salads and any foods that have been kept for more than two hours between 40 F and 140 F
  • Keep your refrigerator temperature between 34 F and 40 F
  • Avoid eating rare hamburger; and cook chicken until the juices run clear
  • Remember to stay hydrated—both of these conditions can lead to dehydration
  • If you are sick, don’t prepare food for others for at least two days