Nonbacterial food poisoning may occur after eating foods that contain a naturally occurring or acquired deleterious substance. Ingestion of poisonous mushrooms or toadstools (see mushroom poisoning) may be followed in a matter of several minutes to two hours by severe thirst, abdominal cramps, diarrhea, vomiting, sweating, dizziness, confusion, collapse, coma, and, occasionally, convulsions. Poisoning may occur also after the ingestion of immature or sprouting potatoes because of the presence of solanine, an alkaloid. Mussels and clams that have fed on poisonous plankton also are a cause of food poisoning, since the poisonous substance is not destroyed by cooking. Ergot poisoning, caused by ingestion of rye grain infected with that fungus, causes damage to the blood vessels and gangrene, as well as gastrointestinal and neurologic symptoms.
It is also possible to take into the body poisons such as arsenic, lead, or mercury via foods that have been accidentally contaminated or sprayed with preservatives and not properly cleansed before ingestion. Food stored in containers lined with cadmium has been known to cause poisoning. Typical symptoms of this sort of food poisoning (diarrhea, vomiting) may occur right away; the nervous system and respiratory systems may be affected with continued exposure.
The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.