Yellow Diarrhea & Food Poisoning? All Questions answered

Quick Insights.

  • Yellow diarrhea is a possible sign of food poisoning.
  • Usually, it is not a dangerous condition. And it may be due to one or more of the following:
    • Speeding up of your intestinal contents due to the process of diarrhea itself.
    • Food poisoning with certain organisms (especially Giardiasis).
    • Eating certain foods before or during the attack of diarrhea (such as carrots and sweet potatoes).
  • Yellow diarrhea doesn’t always mean food poisoning. Other causes of yellow diarrhea are discussed here and here.
  • Stomach flu (viral gastroenteritis) is another very common cause of yellow diarrhea. But have milder symptoms. 
  • Ask for help from your doctor if:
    • Severe watery diarrhea, bloody diarrhea, or prolonged diarrhea for over three days.
    • Signs of dehydration: scanty or dark urine, extreme thirst, dizziness, or confusion.
    • Young babies, elderly >60 years, or pregnant.
    • Chronic diseases or low immunity states.
    • Recent antibiotics or traveling abroad.


Can food poisoning cause yellow diarrhea?


Food poisoning can cause yellow diarrhea, but not all the time. The most common types of food poisoning that can cause yellow diarrhea are the organisms that infect the small intestinal part of your gut such as Giardiasis, salmonella, campylobacter, and others [ref]

Food poisoning can lead to yellow diarrhea by one or more of 3 mechanisms: 

  • Speeding up of your intestinal contents: stool won’t have enough time to acquire its normal brown color.
  • Food poisoning with certain organisms: some commonly cause yellow/watery diarrhea than others: Giardiasis, salmonella, campylobacter, norovirus.
  • Food factors: some diets can make your diarrhea more yellowish if you ate them during or before the onset of symptoms:
    • Carrots.
    • Sweet Potatoes.
    • Tumeric
    • any yellow pigment-containing foods.


Does yellow diarrhea always mean food poisoning?



You may have food poisoning with yellow diarrhea. But yellow diarrhea can be a result of other common infections that are not considered food poisoning (commonly: stomach bug or stomach flu) or even due to causes other than an infection.

Causes of yellow diarrhea OTHER THAN food poisoning:

  • Stomach flu: infection with stomach viruses such as norovirus or rotavirus. Although some people consider them another form of food poisoning. But they are usually milder infections and self-limiting infections.
  • Recent medication: you may experience yellow diarrhea after medications such as laxatives, some antibiotics, or GERD and Yellow diarrhea Medications. 
  • Stress or anxiety situations.
  • Irritable bowel syndrome.
  • Alcohol binge drinking.
  • Indigestion of a large fatty meal.
  • Food allergy/intolerance. 

The causes of yellow diarrhea are discussed in detail here: Yellow diarrhea: Causes Simplified By A Gut Doctor. 


What are the most common organisms that can cause food poisoning with yellow diarrhea?


  • Small intestinal infection →  watery diarrhea (which can be yellow). Common causes: 
    • Salmonella.
    • Campylobacter.
    • Norovirus.
    • Cryptosporidium.
    • E. coli (ETEC, EAEC strains).
    • Giardiasis (commonly causes yellow diarrhea)
  • Large intestinal infection (colon, rectum) → inflammatory diarrhea (bloody, mucous diarrhea with or without fever). Common causes include:
    • Shigella.
    • Entamoeba Histolytica.
    • Campylobacter.
    • E. coli (Enterohemorrhagic strains).
    • Salmonella.
  • Vomiting-predominant food poisoning → usually due to ingesting a preformed toxin with food. Common causes include:
    • Staph. Aureus enterotoxin.
    • Bacillus cereus emetic toxin.
    • Norovirus also can cause such a condition. 


Is there a difference between food poisoning and stomach flu?

Food poisoning is a disease caused by eating or drinking contaminated foods/drinks contaminated with bacteria, parasites, viruses, toxins, or chemicals. 

While stomach flu (stomach bug) is not a scientific medical term, it usually refers to viral gastro-enteritis which is a mild, self-limiting, & short-term illness [ref] 

Stomach Flu

Food Poisoning

Caused by viruses

Caused by bacteria, viruses, parasites, toxins, or chemicals.

Food is not the only source of infection; stomach flu can be acquired by unwashed hands or unclean surfaces, droplet infection, or direct contact with an infected person.

Infection is due to eating or drinking contaminated food/drinks.

Symptoms start after a day or more of infection

Symptoms start shortly after eating contaminated food (usually 2-6 hours)

Complications are rare

The complication is common such as severe vomiting, diarrhea, dehydration, or even dangerous complications, as with botulism.

Diarrhea is usually brownish or yellowish

Diarrhea is more severe, watery, yellow, greenish, and bloody.


What are other colors of food poisoning?


Not all types of food poisoning cause yellow diarrhea. It may present with different colors or even without diarrhea.

  • Yellow diarrhea: in most cases of food poisoning, the stool color may turn yellow. And this is usually not a dangerous sign; It is simply because your stool stays for shorter periods inside your intestine (Insufficient time to acquire its standard brown color).

It is usually due to organisms infecting your small intestine [ref]

  • Bloody diarrhea/dysentery: some food poisoning can lead to severe diarrhea with blood or mucus. 

It is usually due to organisms infecting your large intestine (colon & rectum), such as shigellosis, campylobacter, E. coli (entero-invasive strains), and entamoeba Histolytica.

  • Greenish diarrhea: with some small intestinal organisms, severe watery diarrhea can turn greenish due to the rapid passage of unprocessed green bile due to diarrhea. This can occur with salmonella, giardia, and norovirus [ref].
  • Rice watery (white) diarrhea: although not common in the USA. But rice watery diarrhea is usually due to vibrio cholera infection (if your diarrhea is completely watery and whitish, this requires emergency medical attention as cholera is a life-threatening condition).
  • No-diarrhea: some forms of food poisoning can present without any diarrhea. And the symptoms include vomiting only or non-intestinal symptoms such as jaundice (hepatitis A food poisoning), neurological symptoms (Botulism), or body aches (stomach flu).


What are the warning signs [when to see a doctor] for food poisoning?


Usually, food poisoning is a self-limiting condition. But it can result in complications, especially if you have risk factors such as older age or chronic illness that can affect your immunity.

Here is the list of signs and circumstances that requires you to seek help from your doctor or nurse: [ref]

  • Massive diarrhea: profuse watery diarrhea, severe abdominal pain, especially if more than six motions/day
  • Signs of dehydration: dry mouth or extreme thirst, rapid breath, not peeing at all or dark, scanty urine, dizziness, or confusion.
  • Bloody diarrhea: the passage of blood or bloody mucus with your stool.
  • Fever: more than 38.5° C (101.3° F)
  • Co-existing diseases: such as cardiac diseases, HIV, and cancer chemotherapy.
  • Prolonged diarrhea: more than three days.
  • Age: older than 60, babies, or children.
  • Pregnant women.
  • Recent antibiotic treatment or recent traveling abroad.


How to treat food poisoning and yellow diarrhea?


    • Step #1: If you have any warning signs, please seek medical help immediately.
    • Step #2: drink more fluids; if you experience vomiting, try to drink  “small-frequent” amounts of water, fruit juices, or sports drinks high in electrolytes. But if you think you have significant dehydration, ask your doctor about using “Oral Rehydration Solutions.”
    • Step #3: Eat easy-to-digest foods and avoid solid and high-fat food (see below).
    • Step #4: To control diarrhea and nausea, ask your doctor about over-the-counter anti-diarrheal, such as Immodium or Pepto-Bismol,. 
    • Step #5: if you have a fever, paracetamol is the best option. But see your doctor if the temperature is above 38.5 C (101.3 F).
  • Step #6: Having rest always helps.
  • Step #7: monitor, monitor, monitor! If any warning signs of dehydration or diarrhea last for more than three days, please seek help.


How to eat when you have food poisoning / yellow diarrhea? 


  • Food:

    • Eat bland, easy-to-digest foods,
    • Avoid high fat & highly acidic food. See the table below [ref] 

Do Eat:

Don’t Eat

BRAT: Bananas, Rice, Applesauce, Toast

Dairy: especially full-fat milk and cheese

Saltine Crackers.

High-fat and junk foods.


Highly seasoned foods.


Foods with a high sugar content

Chicken broth

Spicy foods

Bland Potatoes.

Fried food

  • Drinks:

    • Frequent small amounts of fluid are essential.
    • Avoid drinking a lot of water or any drink at once, especially if you have nausea or vomiting.
    • If you can’t drink or have dehydration, seek medical help, as you may need intravenous fluid.  

Do Drink

Don’t Drink


Caffeine (coffee, caffeinated drinks)

Diluted fruit juices


Sports Drinks.


Soda without caffeine (as ginger ale)