Foodborne disease is caused by consuming contaminated foods or beverages. There are many different foodborne infections, which cause an estimated 48 million illnesses and 3,000 deaths each year in the United States. The onset of symptoms may occur within minutes to weeks and often presents itself as flu-like symptoms, as the ill person may experience symptoms such as nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, or fever. Because the symptoms are often flu-like, many people may not recognize that the illness is caused by harmful bacteria or other pathogens in food.
Everyone is at risk for getting a foodborne illness. However, some people are at greater risk for experiencing a more serious illness or even death should they get a foodborne illness. Those at greater risk are infants, young children, pregnant women and their unborn babies, older adults, and people with weakened immune systems.
Most cases of foodborne illness can be prevented with proper cooking or processing of food to destroy pathogens and careful attention to handwashing and preventing cross contamination of kitchen surfaces/utensils.
Bacteria are one type of microorganism that can cause disease and can be found virtually everywhere, including in the soil and water. Bacteria have been detected on plants, animals, fruits, and vegetables.
In general, the most common symptoms from a bacterial infection are diarrhea, which may be bloody, and fever. Other symptoms such as vomitting and abdominal cramping may also occur. Symptoms generally begin a day or two after ingestion of the contaminated food item and last for several days.
Parasites may be present in food or in water, but cause waterborne illness much more often than foodborne illness in the United States. Parasites range in size, from tiny single-celled organisms to worms visible to the naked eye. They may be transmitted through consumption or accidental ingestion of contaminated water/food, or by putting anything into your mouth that has touched the stool (feces) of an infected person or animal.
The illnesses they can cause range from mild discomfort to debilitating illness and possibly death. Typically, the symptoms are watery diarrhea, abdominal cramping, bloating and alternating periods of constipation. Symptoms generally begin a week or so after ingestion of the contaminated item and typically last for several weeks.
Viral gastroenteritis is an infection caused by a variety of viruses that results in vomiting or diarrhea. It is often called the "stomach flu," although it is not caused by the influenza viruses.
The main symptoms of viral gastroenteritis are watery diarrhea and vomiting. The person may also have headache, fever, and abdominal cramps ("stomach ache"). In general, the symptoms begin 1 to 2 days following infection with the virus and may last for 1 to 10 days, depending on which virus causes the illness. Dehydration is the most common complication, especially among the young and elderly, and may require medical attention. The viruses that cause gastroenteritis are spread through close contact with infected persons. Individuals may also become infected by eating or drinking contaminated foods or beverages.