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Foodborne Illness (Food Poisoning)

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), foodborne illness affects 48 million Americans, causes 128,000 hospitalizations and 3,000 deaths annually. Anyone, regardless of race, age, gender, ethnicity, or socioeconomic status, is at risk. Fortunately, most foodborne illnesses are self-limiting; however, they cost our nation millions in lost productivity, medical, and legal expenses.

Common Foodborne Diseases

There are several agents that can cause illness when consumed in contaminated food, beverages, or water. Foodborne illness can also be spread person-to-person as well as from contact with animals. Below is a list of common foodborne diseases. For additional information on specific foodborne diseases, please refer to the CADE homepage.

OrganismOnset of SymptomsAssociated Food(s)
Botulism12 - 36 hours

Canned fruits and vegetables

Campylobacter2 - 5 days, range 1 - 10 days

Undercooked chicken or pork, unpasteurized milk

Cholera12 - 72 hours

Undercooked or raw seafood, especially oysters

Cryptosporidium7 days, range 1 - 12 days

Unpasteurized beverages, contaminated food or water, person-to-person

E. coli (shiga-toxin)3 - 4 days, range 2 - 10 days

Undercooked ground meats, unpasteurized milk, contaminated fruits or vegetables, person-to-person

Giardia7 - 10 days, range 3 - 25 days

Contaminated water, person-to-person

Hepatitis A28 - 30 days, range 15 - 50 days

Raw produce, undercooked foods, person-to-person

Listeria3 weeks, range 3 - 70 days

Soft cheeses, unpasteurized milk, ready-to-eat deli meats, hot dogs, undercooked poultry, unwashed raw vegetables

Norovirus24 - 48 hours, range 10 - 50 hours

Contaminated ready-to-eat food, undercooked shellfish, person-to-person

Salmonella12 - 36 hours, range 6 - 72 hours

Contaminated eggs, poultry, beef, raw fruits and vegetables, unpasteurized milk or juice, cheese

Shigella1 - 3 days, range 12 - 96 hours

Contaminated food or water, person-to-person

Trichinosis8 - 15 days, range 5 - 45 days

Raw or undercooked pork or wild game meat

Definition

Foodborne illness (food poisoning) happens after eating or drinking contaminated food, beverages, or water. Infectious organisms such as bacteria, viruses, parasites, and also toxins can get into food. Contamination can occur during food processing, production and handling. Contamination can happen anywhere food is processed, packaged, shipped, prepared, or stored. Severity of illness from eating contaminated food may vary depending on how contaminated the food is as well as one’s age and underlying health.

Symptoms

Though foodborne illness symptoms vary depending on the source and degree of contamination, most foodborne illnesses cause one or more of the following symptoms:

    • Nausea
    • Vomiting
    • Diarrhea
    • Abdominal pain
    • Stomach cramps
    • Loss of appetite
    • Fatigue
    • Fever

Symptoms may start within hours after eating contaminated food, or may begin days later. Most foodborne illness last from one to 10 days.

Causes

There are many bacteria, viruses, parasites, as well as toxins that cause foodborne illness. Contamination of food can occur at any point during its production: growing, harvesting, processing, storing, shipping, or preparing. Cross-contamination (the transfer of harmful organisms from one surface to another) is often the cause. Cross-contamination is common with raw, ready-to-eat foods such as fresh produce or salads. Because these foods are not cooked, harmful organisms are not destroyed before consumption and can cause illness.

Risk Factors

Severity of illness resulting from contaminated food greatly depends on the organism, the degree of exposure to the contaminant, one’s age and health. Individuals at higher risk for foodborne illness include:

    • Older adults
    • Pregnant women
    • Infants and children
    • People with chronic illnesses or diseases

Eating or drinking the following items increases the chances of getting a foodborne illness:

    • Raw or rare meat and poultry
    • Raw or undercooked fish or shellfish (including oysters, clams, mussels, and scallops)
    • Raw or undercooked eggs or food that may contain them (such as cookie dough)
    • Raw sprouts (such as alfalfa, bean, clover, or radish sprouts)
    • Unpasteurized juices, ciders, milk, and milk products
    • Soft cheeses (such as feta and Brie)
    • Refrigerated pates and meat spreads
    • Uncooked hot dogs, luncheon meats, and deli meats

Prevention

In order to prevent foodborne illness at home:

    • Wash hands, utensils, and food surfaces often. Wash hands with soap and warm water before and after handling food. Use hot, soapy water when washing utensils, cutting boards, and other food surfaces.
    • Separate raw food from ready-to-eat food when shopping, preparing, or storing food.
    • Cook food to a safe temperature using a food thermometer. Follow the temperature guidelines for specific food from the information below:
      • Fresh beef, veal, lamb, and pork - 145 °F, let rest for 3 minutes.
      • Seafood - 145 °F
      • Ground beef - 160 °F
      • Egg dishes - 160°F
      • Poultry - 165 °F
      • Leftovers and casseroles - 165 °F
      • Eggs - Cook until yolk and white are firm.

    • Promptly refrigerate or freeze perishable food within two hours of purchasing or preparation. Food left at room temperature too long may contain infectious organisms that cannot be destroyed by cooking. Put food in freezer if it will not be consumed within two days.
    • Safely defrost food in the refrigerator or by microwaving the food using the “defrost” or “50 percent power” setting. Foods thawed in the microwave should be cooked immediately. Running cold water over frozen food also safely thaws the food. Do not thaw foods at room temperature.
    • When in doubt, throw it out. Discard any food if uncertain whether or not it was prepared, served, or stored safely. Do not taste questionable food. Even if it looks and smells fine, it may not be safe to eat.

Treatment

Make sure to consult with a healthcare provider if a foodborne illness is suspected or before taking any anti-diarrheal medication. Request that the provider submit a stool sample to the State Hygienic Laboratory (SHL) for testing. Treatment for foodborne illness depends on the source of the illness, and the severity of one's symptoms. People who are healthy often improve without taking any medications. They should drink plenty of fluids to prevent dehydration due to diarrhea.

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