How Fast Can Bad Food Move Through Your Digestive System?

By Chris Dinesen Rogers

Your digestive system provides the building blocks for energy production and synthesis of all structures in the human body. For the optimal benefits, your diet should focus on nutrient-dense foods. On occasion, you may have the misfortune of consuming bad food. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimate that there are nearly 10 million cases of food poisoning each year, causing over 1,300 deaths.

Types of Food

How quickly food is digested is a matter of chemistry. Complex series of chemical reactions break down food into a form that the body can transport and use. This factor will affect how quickly you feel the effects of bad food. Simple carbohydrates, as the name implies, are more easily digested than chemically more complex foods such as starches and fats. This difference accounts for the longer feelings of fullness you feel from eating a steak versus fruit. Digestion begins in the mouth. Food moves from the mouth to the stomach in four to eight seconds. It will leave the stomach in two to six hours depending upon the type of food you ate.

Food Poisoning

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimate that there are over 200 foodborne illnesses with plenty of bacteria, viruses and other pathogens able to contaminate your food. Familiar sources include salmonella and E. coli. Your symptoms appear once the pathogen has been released into the body, beginning anywhere from within hours of consumption to days or even weeks, explains MayoClinic.com. The fact that your food was contaminated does not affect digestion. The effects, however, depend upon the type of toxin in the food.


Fortunately, most cases of food poisoning will clear up on their own within 1 to 10 days. Your body's immune system will respond to the threat and destroy it. However, if you are experiencing a fever over 101.5 degrees Fahrenheit or are vomiting blood, you require medical intervention. With persistent gastrointestinal distress or vomiting comes the risk of dehydration, which can complicate treatment of your condition.


Prevention is the key to avoiding the discomfort of eating bad food. Simply heating foods to their proper temperature can prevent many cases of food poisoning caused by bacteria that can develop. Likewise, refrigerating foods after you have eaten will also prevent bacteria growth. In addition, proper hygiene in the kitchen such as washing your hands and the utensils you work with will protect you and your family when preparing meals. The precautions you take can keep bad food from the dining room table.

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