Essential Things Everyone Should Know About Foodborne Illness

Updated on October 11, 2019
Confused Young Woman Holding Salad And Plate Of Donut Near Refrigerator

Having an understanding the seriousness of a foodborne illness is important for everyone including parents with children who could potentially become sick. 

We frequently hear on the news and other places about outbreaks of food-borne illnesses such as E.Coli, and in too many cases, these outbreaks lead to deaths in addition to serious illness. 

According to the USDA, there are an estimated 48 million illnesses every year in the United States considered foodborne, and 3,000 deaths annually.

The following are some of the most important general facts to know about foodborne illness. 

The Most Common Illnesses

Foodborne illnesses come from ingesting bacteria-infected food or drink. 

There are a few of these diseases that are more common than others. 

One of the most common is Escherichia coli or E. coli, as it’s also known. E. coli can live in human intestines, and some forms of this bacteria don’t cause symptoms or sickness, but others can make you very sick. 

You can prevent E. coli when you’re preparing foods by cooking meets thoroughly and avoiding unpasteurized milk and juices. 

Norovirus is another common bacteria spread through food. After eating something contaminated with norovirus, you may experience symptoms in as few as 12 hours, or it may take a day or two. Symptoms can include extreme vomiting, cramps, and diarrhea. Sometimes symptoms may also include a mild fever, achy muscles, and headache.

Salmonella can cause two different kinds of sickness—salmonellosis and enteric fever. Most people with enteric fever got it outside of the United States, such as when they were traveling, and in up to 10% who don’t get treatment, it can be fatal.

In the U.S., campylobacter is one type of bacteria that’s a common culprit of food-related illness, but this isn’t usually related to an outbreak and instead occurs sporadically. 

Hepatitis A can be spread through infected food and water too. Shellfish and salad are most frequently linked to Hepatitis A infection. 

Finally, listeria is another food-related illness to be aware of. Listeria can be mild or severe, and there are forms of listeria that can cause serious harm to pregnant women and their unborn babies. Listeria is usually spread through raw foods and unpasteurized milk and cheese. 

What Are the Symptoms?

fruits and vegetables shopping

While the symptoms of food-borne illnesses can vary depending on what you have, typically, the most common are stomach cramps, diarrhea, nausea, and vomiting.

Some people are more susceptible to getting these illnesses, including young children, older people, pregnant women and people who have a weakened immune system. 

How Does Food Become Infected with Bacteria?

We often associate foodborne illnesses with eating at restaurants, but we can purchase food at the grocery store that has certain bacteria. As an example, chicken and ground beef can have bacteria, as can eggs, seafood, and fresh produce. 

Some of the fresh produce that most commonly has bacteria include tomatoes, melons, sprouts, and lettuce. 

There are thousands of different types of bacteria that occur naturally in the environment, and not all the bacteria we eat is going to make us sick, but some can. 

In the majority of cases, if food is handled properly and prepared by someone who takes the necessary hygiene steps, it can destroy the harmful bacteria.

However, as is the case with something like lettuce, it’s usually eaten raw, which is why it’s one of the foods you’ll hear at the center of many foodborne illness outbreaks. 

If you believe you’ve been contaminated, there are some things you should do.

First, take any of the leftover food and wrap it up tightly. Mark it with the word danger, and freeze it. Save any packaging as well, and write down the time it was consumed and any symptoms. 

If you need treatment, contact your doctor, and if you’re in a risk group, go to the hospital.

Once you’ve received the treatment you should contact your local health department because they will need to investigate and see if others are at risk of becoming sick. 

If you get food poisoning, which is a blanket term for these foodborne illnesses, you should make sure that you follow your doctor’s instructions and also try to drink liquids as much as you can because you can become dehydrated from diarrhea and vomiting.

Note your urine output, and don’t take any anti-diarrhea medications. These slow down how quickly your system can eliminate toxins and they may keep you sick for longer. For most people, the symptoms will start to get better in a few days. 

Throughout the year, our writers feature fresh, in-depth, and relevant information for our audience of 40,000+ healthcare leaders and professionals. As a healthcare business publication, we cover and cherish our relationship with the entire health care industry including administrators, nurses, physicians, physical therapists, pharmacists, and more. We cover a broad spectrum from hospitals to medical offices to outpatient services to eye surgery centers to university settings. We focus on rehabilitation, nursing homes, home care, hospice as well as men’s health, women’s heath, and pediatrics.