Pork food poisoning

You may not connect pork with food poisoning but there are a couple of types of food poisoning, one of which is known as ‘trichinosis’.

The other type occurs as a result of the ‘yersinia enterocolitica’bacteria.

Most of us are familiar with chicken or meat food poisoning and have either suffered from it ourselves or know of people who have done. But how many people do you know who have suffered from food poisoning caused by contaminated pork?

When food poisoning cases are reported in the media they have often been caused by people eating infected chicken or meat. The reasons for these include food which has not been cooked according to instructions, unhygienic handling or cross contamination.

This equally applies to pork.


Trichinosis occurs when pork is infected by a parasite known as ‘roundworms’. These roundworms live as a series of cysts (which contain larvae) within raw or undercooked pork and are able to pass into the human body when this pork is eaten.

These cysts pass through the digestive system where stomach acid causes them to hatch out the larvae which then develop into fully grown roundworms.

These roundworms are harmful to the digestive system, but in particular, they infect bodily tissues which cause a whole range of problems within the body.

These problems can last for up to two months following the initial consumption.

These roundworms will eventually leave the body via the gastrointestinal tract but will cause a range of health problems before they do so.

Symptoms of trichinosis

These appear in two stages: the first stage starts almost straight after eating the infected pork but the second stage takes anything from two to 8 weeks to appear.

In the first stage, symptoms include severe abdominal pain, nausea and diarrhoea. This diarrhoea usually lasts for a couple of days before clearing up by itself.

These initial symptoms occur as a result of the roundworms entering the digestive system and infecting the tissues within that system. This is known as the ‘gastro-intestinal stage’.

The second stage is characterised by fever, aches and pains in the muscles and joints, chills and itching. This occurs 2 to 8 weeks later and as a result of the roundworms infecting skeletal muscle cells.

This is known as the ‘muscle stage’.

In some cases, these roundworms can cause a shortness of breath and an inflammation of the heart muscle –known as ‘myocarditis’.

Diagnosing trichinosis

This is not always easy to diagnose, especially in the first stage unless the person concerned mentions that they have eaten pork. If they have and are suffering from stomach pains, vomiting and diarrhoea then a diagnosis can be made.

But, this depends upon the person seeking help in the first place. Some people may decide to do nothing in the hope that these symptoms will ease by themselves after a couple of days.

They may only seek help when they enter the second stage of the disease and experience chills, joint pains and itching.

A GP will look for signs of pain and tenderness in the joints and muscles as well as any past history of problems in these areas. He or she will also check to see if there any signs of bleeding under the fingernails or within the eyes.

This will be followed by a series of laboratory tests, e.g. blood tests.

Treating trichinosis

Most cases of trichinosis resolve themselves. This means that they do not usually require any treatment unless the symptoms are severe or complications have developed.

Medication can be prescribed to destroy the roundworms within the digestive system or any inflammation within body tissues caused by these parasites.

Complications of trichinosis

The vast majority of trichinosis cases clear up without any complications. However, there are a few situations in which serious conditions such as myocarditis or lung or nervous system problems have occurred which require medical treatment.

These complications may take 6 months to several years to clear.

Yersinia enterocolitica bacteria and pork food poisoning

This type of food poisoning is caused by the yersinia enterocolitica bacteria which live inside raw pork. It is not caused by the actual pork itself but by this strain of bacteria which also causes gastroenteritis.

This bacterium is able to access meats such as pork, beef and lamb due to poor food hygiene and handling. It also occurs if these meats are not stored correctly and at the right temperature.

The problem with this form of bacteria is that it can survive even after being stored within a fridge. But it can be destroyed through cooking so it is important to ensure that pork is well cooked.

Ignore recipes which call for pork to be lightly cooked or undercooked.

The symptoms

Symptoms of this type of food poisoning are very similar to those for Crohn’s disease or appendicitis which may result in an incorrect diagnosis.

The main symptom is a severe form of diarrhoea which is accompanied by other symptoms such as stomach cramps, pain and fever. Many of the symptoms are those caused by gastroenteritis and include nausea, vomiting and a loss of appetite.

The diagnosis

Your GP will examine you and will ask you about your medical history. He or she may refer you for tests if your condition warrants this.

The aim is to determine if your illness is food poisoning or gastroenteritis. In both cases the symptoms are very similar so he/she will ask you about the types of foods you have recently eaten which will include pork.

The treatment

If you have a mild form of food poisoning then this can be treated by yourself. This means drinking plenty of fluids to replace those lost as a result of vomiting and/or diarrhoea.

There are sachets you can purchase which act as a fluid replacement. These contain electrolytes and any other important vitamins/minerals which will replace those lost during your illness.

These sachets are available from a local high street pharmacy or online.

Antibiotics are only prescribed where food poisoning has a bacterial cause.

Babies and young children usually require hospital treatment.


These occur in a small percentage of cases. They include joint pains, skin rash and a possible spread of the infection into the bloodstream.

Preventing pork food poisoning

The best advice we can give here is to avoid eating raw or undercooked pork, prevent cross contamination with other foods and to wash your hands before and after handling pork.

Food Poisoning Guide

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