Difference Between Stomach Flu and Food Poisoning (With Table)

Both Stomach Flu and Food Poisoning are diseases which affect the stomach, in a literal sense. However, they have different causes, symptoms, intensity and even treatment. The major difference between them is the source from which they are caused.

Stomach Flu vs Food Poisoning

Stomach Flu is more of an intestinal disease which is viral and stays for a few days. It is a wider term which can include Food Poisoning. It is technically known as gastroenteritis. It is commonly marked by watery diarrhoea, abdominal cramps, sometimes fever, vomiting and nausea quite often.

Food Poisoning, on the other hand, which is caused by eating or consuming contaminated food. It is a smaller term which can be included in Stomach Flu. It has the alternative name of foodborne illness and is caused mainly due to infectious organisms such as virus, bacteria or parasites, or their toxins.

There are several differences despite the similarities they may have. What is outrightly similar between the two of them is that they are identified as sickness and/or pain in the abdomen. Quite a few of their symptoms are similar to each other which is why they are confused with each other.


Comparison Table Between Stomach Flu and Food Poisoning (in Tabular Form)

Parameter of Comparison

Stomach Flu

Food Poisoning


Stomach flu is mainly an intestinal disease, viral and marked by watery diarrhoea, abdominal cramps, nausea etc.

Food poisoning is caused by the consumption of contaminated food due to infectious organisms such as virus, bacteria or parasites.


Stomach flu has a wider scope as it can include food poisoning.

Food poisoning has a narrower scope as it can be a part of Stomach Flu.


Stomach flu is generally less severe as compared to food poisoning because it is rarely lethal.

Food poisoning, depending upon the cause, can be lethal, in case, some lethal substance is consumed.


A majority of stomach flu cannot be traced back to any specific source. The stomach flu outbreaks may have no specific cause.

Food Poisoning is mostly traced back to a source of contaminated food.

Kind of Treatment

Stomach flu mostly occurs due to Viruses and hence antibiotics are not very useful in curing stomach flu.

Food poisoning from bacterial infections may be cured with antibiotics. For other sources such as parasites etc., specialised therapy may be required


What is Stomach Flu?

Stomach flu is scientifically known as viral gastroenteritis and is an intestinal infection. It is generally marked by watery diarrhoea, cramps in the abdominal region, vomiting, nausea and fever in certain cases.

It is a much wider term than food poisoning and quite a few times also includes food poisoning as a component. Therefore, it may be caused by consumption of contaminated foods, or have other sources such as getting in contact with an infected person.

It is believed that an individual, if healthy, will recover from stomach flu easily in a short while with correct precautions. In other cases, such as children, adults or aged people with immune systems not very strong, it may prove to be deadly.

However, in comparison with food poisoning, it is generally less severe.

It is also understood that since it is caused by a virus, antibiotics are ideally not effective in curing stomach flu. And owing to this, it is also a common understanding that prevention is the key to this infection.

In other words, taking care of consuming good and healthy food and avoiding contaminated food, along with washing hands often and taking care of hygiene, would prove to be of help.


What is Food Poisoning?

Food poisoning is specifically caused by the consumption of contaminated food or substances having adverse effects. It is also known as a foodborne illness because its source can be traced back to contaminated food.

The most common causes are infectious organisms like bacteria, parasites, viruses, at times or their toxins. These organisms are capable of contaminating food or any edible substance, for that matter, at any point, whether during production, storage or consumption.

Moreover, contamination can also take place at homes if the cooking or processing isn’t done properly, taking into consideration all the hygienic matters. Thus, it is imperative to pay special attention to everything that one consumes to avoid food poisoning.

It has been realised that food poisoning can be lethal and more dangerous as compared to stomach flu. However, it is mostly found to be mild and may be resolved without complicated treatment.

The symptoms may start or show within a short period of consuming the food item which was contaminated in its nature. The symptoms may include diarrhoea, vomiting or nausea but are not limited to them. There could be several other symptoms like fever or abdominal cramps too.

Food poisoning, in essence, has a narrower scope than Stomach flu as it can just be a part of stomach flu. With regards to the treatment, in case it is caused by bacteria, it can be treated by antibiotics.

In case there is some other cause like a parasite or any other toxin, specialised therapy may be required depending upon the cause.

Main Differences Between Stomach Flu and Food Poisoning

Stomach flu and food poisoning may have similar symptoms, but they have fundamental differences between them.

  1. The first difference between stomach flu and food poisoning is that stomach flu is a wider term which may include food poisoning while food poisoning is narrower term as it can easily be a part of stomach flu.
  2. Stomach flu is an intestinal infection which may or may not have a specific cause, however, food poisoning occurs specifically because of the consumption of food that might be contaminated.
  3. Stomach flu, in comparison to food poisoning, is generally considered less severe. This is largely determined because of the factor that stomach flu is rarely lethal for an individual. Food poisoning, on the other hand, could be lethal in case a dangerous substance is consumed.
  4. Another difference is that the cause or reason for stomach flu may not be easily traceable to a specific thing. Food poisoning, however, can be easily traced back to contaminated food.
  5. Stomach flu is caused by viruses and hence antibiotics may not work. Antibiotics may work if food poisoning is caused by bacteria or specialized therapy may be required for other organisms.



Stomach flu and food poisoning closely resemble each other concerning their symptoms and appearance. However, they have a very fundamental and significant difference which is that stomach flu does not have a specific cause and food poisoning is mainly due to contaminated food.

It is imperative to understand the difference between them to be able to ensure proper treatment for both these infections and avoid them.



  1. https://conservancy.umn.edu/bitstream/handle/11299/168913/mn_2000_eb_365-01.pdf?sequence=1
  2. https://go.gale.com/ps/i.do?id=GALE%7CA54926373&sid=googleScholar&v=2.1&it=r&linkaccess=abs&issn=00337021&p=AONE&sw=w
  3. https://conservancy.umn.edu/bitstream/handle/11299/168895/mn_2000_eb_354.pdf?sequence=1