Foodborne illness (commonly known as food poisoning) is often caused by consuming food contaminated by bacteria and 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 each year. This estimate is equivalent to 1 in 6 Americans becoming sick from consuming food contaminated with bacteria, which result in an estimated 128,000 hospitalizations and 3,000 deaths.

Foodborne illness occurs when contaminated food is consumed, which causes an infection resulting in illness. There are several factors that contribute to the symptoms and severity of food poisoning, including a weakened immune system and age. 

E. coli (Escherichia coli

Escherichia coli (E. coli) bacteria normally live in the intestines of people and animals. Most E. coli are harmless and actually are an important part of a healthy human intestinal tract. However, some E. coli are pathogenic, meaning they can cause illness, either diarrhea or illness outside of the intestinal tract. The types of E. coli that can cause illness can be transmitted through contaminated water or food, or through contact with animals or persons.   

Salmonella (Salmonella Enteritidis) 

Salmonella spp. can cause serious and sometimes fatal infections in young children, frail or elderly people, and others with weakened immune systems. Healthy people infected with Salmonella spp. often experience fever, diarrhea (which may be bloody), nausea, vomiting, and abdominal pain. 

In rare circumstances, infection with Salmonella spp. can result in the organism getting into the blood stream and producing more severe illnesses such as arterial infections (i.e., infected aneurysms), endocarditis, and arthritis. 

 Direct-human-contact animal foods contaminated with Salmonella spp. pose a significant health risk to humans who have direct contact with the foods at homes, petting zoos, agricultural fairs, or similar venues. 

Listeria (Listeria monocytogenes or L. Monocytogenes

Listeria is a harmful bacterium that can be found in refrigerated, ready-to-eat foods (meat, poultry, seafood, and dairy - unpasteurized milk and milk products or foods made with unpasteurized milk), and produce harvested from soil contaminated with L. monocytogenes.

Many animals can carry this bacterium without appearing ill, which means that it can be found in foods made from animals. L. monocytogenes is unusual because it can grow at refrigerator temperatures where most other foodborne bacteria do not. When eaten, it may cause listeriosis, an illness to which pregnant women and their unborn children are very susceptible.


Page Last Updated: 01/24/2018
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