Food

Foodborne Illnesses: What You Need to Know

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While the American food supply is among the safest in the world, the Federal government estimates that there are about 48 million cases of foodborne illness annually—the equivalent of sickening 1 in 6 Americans each year. And each year these illnesses result in an estimated 128,000 hospitalizations and 3,000 deaths.

The chart below includes foodborne disease-causing organisms that frequently cause illness in the United States. As the chart shows, the threats are numerous and varied, with symptoms ranging from relatively mild discomfort to very serious,life-threatening illness. While the very young, the elderly, and persons with weakened immune systems are at greatest risk of serious consequences from most foodborne illnesses, some of the organisms shown below pose grave threats to all persons.

Organism

Common Name of Illness

Onset Time After Ingesting

Signs & Symptoms

Duration

Food Sources

Bacillus cereus B. cereus food poisoning 10-16 hrs Abdominal cramps, watery diarrhea, nausea 24-48 hours Meats, stews, gravies, vanilla sauce
Campylobacter jejuni Campylobacteriosis 2-5 days Diarrhea, cramps, fever, and vomiting; diarrhea may be bloody 2-10 days Raw and undercooked poultry, unpasteurized milk,contaminated water
Clostridium
botulinum
Botulism 12-72 hours Vomiting, diarrhea, blurred vision, double vision, difficulty in swallowing, muscle weakness. Can result in respiratory failure and death Variable Improperly canned foods, especially home-canned vegetables, fermented fish, baked potatoes in aluminum foil
Clostridium
perfringens
Perfringens food
poisoning
8–16 hours Intense abdominal cramps, watery diarrhea Usually 24
hours
Meats, poultry, gravy, dried or precooked foods, time and/or temperature-abused foods
Cryptosporidium Intestinal
cryptosporidiosis
2-10 days Diarrhea (usually watery), stomach cramps, upset stomach, slight fever May be remitting and relapsing over weeks to months Uncooked food or food contaminated by an ill food handler after cooking, contaminated drinking water
Cyclospora
cayetanensis
Cyclosporiasis 1-14 days, usually at least 1 week Diarrhea (usually watery), loss of appetite, substantial loss of weight, stomach cramps, nausea, vomiting, fatigue May be remitting and relapsing over weeks to months Various types of fresh produce (imported berries, lettuce, basil)
E. coli
(Escherichia coli)

producing toxin
E. coli infection
(common cause of
“travelers’ diarrhea”)
1-3 days Watery diarrhea, abdominal cramps, some vomiting 3-7 or more days Water or food contaminated with human feces
E. coli O157:H7 Hemorrhagic colitis
or E. coli O157:H7 infection
1-8 days Severe (often bloody) diarrhea, abdominal pain and vomiting. Usually, little or no fever is present. More common in children 4 years or younger. Can lead to kidney failure. 5-10 days Undercooked beef (especially hamburger), unpasteurized milk and juice, raw fruits and vegetables (e.g. sprouts), and contaminated water
Hepatitis A Hepatitis 28 days average (15-50 days) Diarrhea, dark urine, jaundice, and flu-like symptoms, i.e., fever, headache, nausea, and abdominal pain Variable, 2 weeks-3 months Raw produce, contaminated drinking water, uncooked foods and cooked foods that are not reheated after contact with an infected food handler; shellfish from contaminated waters
Listeria
monocytogenes
Listeriosis 9-48 hrs for gastro-intestinal symptoms, 2-6 weeks for invasive disease Fever, muscle aches, and nausea or diarrhea. Pregnant women may have mild flu-like illness, and infection can lead to premature delivery or stillbirth. The elderly or immunocompromised patients may develop bacteremia or meningitis. Variable Unpasteurized milk, soft cheeses made with unpasteurized milk, ready-to-eat deli meats
Noroviruses Variously called viral gastroenteritis, winter diarrhea, acute non- bacterial gastroenteritis, food poisoning, and food infection 12-48 hrs Nausea, vomiting, abdominal cramping, diarrhea, fever, headache. Diarrhea is more prevalent in adults, vomiting more common in children. 12-60 hrs Raw produce, contaminated drinking water, uncooked foods and cooked foods that are not reheated after contact with an infected food handler; shellfish from contaminated waters
Salmonella Salmonellosis 6-48 hours Diarrhea, fever, abdominal cramps, vomiting 4-7 days Eggs, poultry, meat, unpateurized milk or juice, cheese, contaminated raw fruits and vegetables
Shigella Shigellosis or Bacillary dysentery 4-7 days Abdominal cramps, fever, and diarrhea. Stools may contain blood and mucus. 24-48 hrs Raw produce, contaminated drinking water, uncooked foods and cooked foods that are not reheated after contact with an infected food handler
Staphylococcus aureus Staphylococcal food poisoning 1-6 hours Sudden onset of severe nausea and vomiting. Abdominal cramps. Diarrhea and fever may be present. 24-48 hours Unrefrigerated or improperly refrigerated meats, potato and egg salads, cream pastries
Vibrio
parahaemolyticus
V. parahaemolyticus infection 4-96 hours Watery (occasionally bloody) diarrhea, abdominal cramps, nausea, vomiting, fever 2-5 days Undercooked or raw seafood, such as shellfish
Vibrio vulnificus V. vulnificus infection 1-7 days Vomiting, diarrhea, abdominal pain, bloodborne infection. Fever, bleeding within the skin, ulcers requiring surgical removal. Can be fatal to persons with liver disease or weakened immune systems. 2-8 days Undercooked or raw seafood, such as shellfish (especially oysters)

For more information, contact: The U.S. Food and Drug Administration Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition Food Information Line at 1-888-SAFEFOOD (toll free), 10 AM to 4 PM ET, Monday through Friday. 

Page Last Updated: 10/31/2013
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