According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), researchers have identified more than 250 different foodborne illnesses. Every foodborne illness is caused by either a bacteria, virus, parasites, or harmful toxins and chemicals. It is estimated that each year, 48 million people become sick with food poisoning illnesses, 128,000 require hospitalization, and 3,000 of the cases result in death.
Food poisoning occurs when a food or drink which is contaminated with a pathogenic germ is consumed and then the germ causes an infection in the person. The top five germs that most commonly cause food poisoning are Norovirus, Salmonella, Clostridium perfringens, Campylobacter, Staphylococcus (Staph). The following are some fast facts about these germs and the illnesses that they cause:
- Norovirus: the leading cause of foodborne illnesses in U.S. and extremely contagious; Symptoms: vomiting, diarrhea, nausea, and stomach pain; Common foods: any food or water contaminated with virus, such as oysters, fruits and vegetables
- Salmonella: bacteria shed through feces; Symptoms: diarrhea, fever, and stomach cramps; Common foods: eggs and poultry
- Clostridium perfringens: C. perfringens for short, found in intestines of animals and in the environment; Symptoms: diarrhea and stomach cramps; Common foods: meat, poultry, gravies, and large batches of food kept at unsafe temperatures
- Campylobacter: most common bacterial cause of diarrheal illness in U.S.; Symptoms: diarrhea (bloody), stomach cramps, and fever; Common foods: raw or undercooked poultry, meat, seafood, and untreated water
- Staphylococcus: bacteria that produces toxins which cause gastrointestinal illness; Symptoms: nausea, vomiting, and stomach cramps; Common foods: foods not cooked after handling, like sliced meats, puddings, pastries, and sandwiches; Symptoms: nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea
While most healthy individuals may be able to recover from food poisoning without medical attention, people with weakened immune systems, including such individuals as the elderly, cancer survivors, and infants, are at a greater risk to experience a serious onset of illness and potential complications. Visit the CDC’s website to learn how four simple steps—Clean, Separate, Cook, and Chill—can increase your food safety and greatly decrease the likelihood of food poisoning.