The Causes of Foodborne Illness
Because harmful microorganisms are present
everywhere in the environment, any food can
become contaminated if not properly handled
before consumption. Consider these facts:
- The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
(CDC) lists four sources of foodborne
disease-causing bacteria, viruses,
and toxins. A few of these are very
and account for the majority of reported
- Half of all foodborne outbreaks reported
to CDC have no identifiable cause.
most of the outbreaks are due to
in food. At least 30 pathogens are
associated with foodborne illness.
CDC has targeted four bacterial pathogens
- E. coli O157:H7, Salmonella Enteritidis,
Listeria monocytogenes and Campylobacter
jejuni - as those of greatest concern.
of concern to CDC are other bacterial
such as Vibrio vulnificus and Yersinia
Clostridium perfringens and Staphylococcus
- Bacteria in food can cause infections when
the microorganism is eaten and established
in the body, usually multiplying
intestinal tract and irritating the
of the intestines. Two well-known
that can cause these types of infections
are Salmonella and Campylobacter.
Other microorganisms in food may
harmful or deadly toxins while growing
the intestinal tract. Two pathogens
work this way are Clostridium botulinum
Viral pathogens are often transmitted
infected food handlers or through
with sewage. Only a few viral pathogens,
such as Hepatitis A and Norwalk viruses,
have been proven to cause foodborne
Parasites, such as Trichinella spiralis,
which causes trichinosis, can occur
forms, such as eggs and larvae.
CDC experts report that many of the
illnesses commonly referred to as
flu are actually caused by foodborne
People do not associate these illnesses
food because the onset of symptoms
occurs two or more days after the
food was eaten.
Natural toxins may occur in some
other foods, such as scombroid toxin
mackerel or bluefish that have not
- Most cases of foodborne illness in healthy
adults are self-limiting and of short
Diarrhea, cramps and vomiting are
common acute symptoms of many foodborne
which can range from mild to severe.
If you have questions or concerns about food
The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Meat and Poultry Hotline at (800) 535-4555
or (202) 720-3333 (Washington, DC area).
The TTY number for the hearing impaired
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) Food Information Line at (888) SAFE FOOD.
Reprinted with permission from
The Fight BAC!™ Web site at: www.fightbac.org