Food Poisoning Incubation Periods

We have had many questions sent to us in the past asking if we could investigate a restaurant in our jurisdiction.  Usually the complaint was of getting sick a few hours from dining.  The complainant is puzzled when we ask where they ate 5 hours ago, 12 hours ago and 1-2 days ago?  The reasoning for this timeframe is that most common food illnesses take several hours to as much as 6 weeks to incubate to the point where you would feel symptoms.  Below is a table that should assist you in determining what may have caused your complaint.

Illness                                                        Incubation Time         Likelyhood

Scombroid Poisoning                                     <1hour                            1

Staphylococcal Food Poisoning                      2-4 Hours                        2

Ciguatera Poisoning                                      3-5 Hours                        1 

Bacillus Cereus                                              1-5 Hours                        3

Clostridium Perfringens                                 8-12 Hours                      4

Vibrio Parahaemolyticus                                2-12 Hours                      4

Enterotoxigenic E. Coli                                  8-36 Hours                      5

Salmonellosis                                               12-36 Hours                     4

Botulism                                                       12-36 Hours                     2

Yersiniosis                                                     1-2 Days                         1

Norwalk Virus                                                1-2 Days                         4

Streptococcal Food Poisoning                        1-3 Days                         3    

Shigellosis                                                      2-3 Days                        3

Campylobacteriosis                                        3-5 Days                        4

Listeriosis                                                      3-21 Days                       2

Hepatitis A Virus                                           10-28 Days                      4

Typhoid Fever                                                 1-3 Weeks                     1

Giardiasis                                                       1-6 Weeks                      1

1=Very Rare




5=very Common

Many times patrons’s complaints are dismissed because of poor documentation in the complaint.  Stating that this is the establishment that caused your illness is not enough because based on your symptoms, the last establishment may not be at fault.  I recomend that you document the time you ate at a restaurant (receipt is always good), what you ate, your symptoms and when they surfaces, and a doctor diagnosis when making a complaint. 

If you are looking for ways to avoid these in your establishment we have free and fee base training available in the rest of our website