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What are Some Common Foodborne Illnesses?

By J. Beam
Updated Feb 20, 2024
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There are a number of common foodborne illnesses, mostly caused by bacteria and resulting most frequently from unsafe food handling and preparation. The most commonly recognized forms of foodborne illnesses are caused by bacteria. Though the CDC recognizes over 250 identified foodborne illnesses, the most common sources are bacterial and include Campylobacter, Salmonella, and E.coli.

Campylobacter is a bacterial pathogen that causes campylobacteriosis, or more commonly, a form of food poisoning. The bacteria are found in the intestines of healthy birds and while they do not affect the birds, the bacteria do affect humans. Most raw poultry contains Campylobacter but proper cooking of the meat kills the bacteria. The most common source of campylobacteriosis is contamination from the drippings of raw poultry or eating the meat undercooked.

The symptoms of campylobacteriosis include diarrhea, nausea, vomiting, abdominal pain and cramping and fever. Most people infected with Campylobacter recover without further complications in about 3 to 5 days and some people infected with this bacteria do not show any symptoms at all. The most common complication associated with this foodborne illness is dehydration.

Salmonella and E.coli are two other causes of foodborne illnesses well known to the general public. Salmonella causes salmonellosis, a bacterial infection that can cause nausea, vomiting, diarrhea and abdominal cramps. Salmonella is widespread in the intestines of many animals, including humans. It is most commonly transmitted through feces and can become foodborne if food has been contaminated. Eating raw and undercooked foods containing Salmonella can cause the illness.

E.coli, short for Escherichia coli, is also a bacteria and is commonly found in cattle and other similar animals. There are several different strains of E.coli, some of which are harmless, many of which are toxins. While undercooked beef can be a source of E.coli, other foods can become contaminated by the feces of an animal with the bacteria. Unlike many other foodborne illnesses, E.coli may not surface for several days to weeks after consuming the bacteria and complications from the illness can be more severe. However, E.coli and other common foodborne illnesses can be prevented with proper and safe food handling.

To reduce the risk of becoming infected with these and other foodborne bacteria, do not consume raw meat, poultry, or eggs. Always store food according to package directions and do not let cooked food stand at room temperature for longer than one hour. Always wash raw fruit and vegetables before eating and be sure to thoroughly wash preparation surfaces, utensils, and hands after handling raw foods. For more information about these and other foodborne illnesses, their risks, and symptoms, visit the website for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

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Discussion Comments

By Sunny27 — On May 16, 2011

@Bhutan - I wouldn’t either. You really have no control when it comes to restaurants and sometimes even the upscale restaurants make mistakes.

My aunt will not eat at restaurants because she is afraid of developing a food borne illness. She loves to cook and prefers to cook at home where she knows how the food is prepared.

I told her that she is missing out on some really great places, but she said that she doesn’t care. She is very old fashioned and set in her ways and prefers to have control over her environment when eating.

By Bhutan — On May 15, 2011

I just wanted to say that last week I went to a restaurant to celebrate my son’s communion and I took home some leftovers, The next day I ate the leftovers and they really made me sick. I started to get really bad cramps and they started from my back and then came around the front.

I then got really clammy and began vomiting. It was horrible. I didn’t start to eat regular food until three days after because I felt so awful. I do know not know what food borne illness I had but I don’t think that I am going to eat at that restaurant again even though it was an upscale restaurant.

It is pretty hard to forget an experience like this.

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