Ate something bad - but what?
June 24, 2016 1:19 AM   Subscribe

Often when I am feeling unwell due to eating something bad, I'll think back over what I've eaten, and one particular item will stick out and make me feel queasy. Is there any science or fact to this?
posted by gorcha to Science & Nature (7 answers total)
Sort of. It's a psychological effect called Taste Aversion. However, it's not accurate. So your brain is more likely to develop taste aversion to foods that are followed by nausea/vomiting under certain conditions and it doesn't mean there was anything wrong with the food. So you may feel very nauseous about one particular food, but that doesn't mean it was the problematic food, though it does mean you're less likely to enjoy that food in future!

Food poisoning can take anything between 20 minutes and several weeks to start showing symptoms. Unless it's confirmed by food testing you can never be certain what has caused your stomach upset. In many cases it will be viral rather than food-bourne.
posted by kadia_a at 2:12 AM on June 24, 2016 [3 favorites]

Adding to "not that accurate": chemo patients are actually sometimes warned to eat foods they don't like very much immediately following treatment, since they may develop an aversion due to the nausea. Otherwise, well-meaning friends or family ruin one favorite dish after another for the patient.
posted by cogitron at 5:31 AM on June 24, 2016 [7 favorites]

Yeah, Taste Aversion was definitely a thing that popped up in my psychology textbook in college. I was pleased to know it was a recognized thing that happened sometimes!

My understanding of taste aversions was that they tended to be more common if you were very sick/nauseous after eating a food you didn't really have any strong like/dislike for before you got ill.

Like, if you love a food, it's easier to forgive it for being a part of this bad experience just the one time, but if it's a food you're just kind of 'meh' about, that was where you could start to develop more violent taste aversion reactions.

Data point of one: when I was in high school, a latent stomach bug I'd picked up somewhere kicked in after I'd eaten some green apple slices and caramel as a snack. Took me YEARS before I'd touch an apple again.
posted by helloimjennsco at 6:46 AM on June 24, 2016

I was off Indian food (well, you know, the standard American version of same) for YEARS after I got sick the first time eating it, even though the timing meant that it was probably something I had eaten earlier that day. I have now graduated back to, like, Trader Joe's frozen Indian entrees, but I don't know if I'll ever really be a fan of the cuisine.
posted by praemunire at 8:25 AM on June 24, 2016

People are pretty bad at telling what gave them food poisoning. Sometimes you can blame the oysters that were out in the sun all day and be pretty sure. But think about the recalls with salmonella from spinach, listeria from melons and peanut butter, etc. These aren't foods that popped into the people's minds as "of course!", it took a bunch of research and testing to trace down all the ill people to a common food item consumed in the last several days.
posted by Lady Li at 2:01 PM on June 24, 2016 [1 favorite]

Also called the Garcia effect, a name I think deserves to be preserved because Garcia had the guts it took to face down opposition from doctrinaire classical conditioning theorists.
posted by jamjam at 11:24 PM on June 24, 2016 [1 favorite]

How good is your memory? Some foodborne illnesses show up in hours, but Campylobacteriosis takes a few days. Cyclosporiasis takes up to 2 weeks. Hep A averages a month, but can take up to 7 weeks.

You may think back to something recent that might seem dodgy, but the bacteria has been brewing for days or weeks.
posted by 26.2 at 4:44 PM on June 26, 2016

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