US Pharm. 2022;47(12):15-16.

Caused by Bacteria, Viruses, and Parasites

Chances are high that you or someone you care about will contend with a bout of food poisoning or foodborne illness at some point. Every year, almost one out of every six Americans becomes ill from ingesting food or water contaminated with certain bacteria, viruses, or parasites. Foodborne illnesses are prevalent and can also be associated with severe sickness that causes hospitalization and death. Food and water can become contaminated with bacteria and viruses, and certain conditions allow bacteria, viruses, and parasites to flourish in those environments. Ingesting contaminated food can be prevented by taking careful action in food preparation and processing and by avoiding certain foods altogether.

Food Production Contains Many Steps

Unless we eat only fresh fruits and vegetables from our gardens, the food we eat goes through many steps before it reaches our plates. At each of these steps, there is a risk of contamination if food is not handled correctly along the way. Even the food from our home gardens can become contaminated with potentially harmful organisms. The foods most commonly associated with foodborne illnesses are undercooked and improperly prepared meat and fish, unwashed fruits and vegetables, and raw or unpasteurized eggs, milk, and flour.

lllness Can Be Mild or Severe

In the United States, over 250 different organisms are known to contaminate our food and water. Of these, five common organisms account for most foodborne illnesses. They are norovirus, Salmonella, Staphylococcus aureus, Campylobacter, and Clostridium perfringens. Escherichia coli is another well-known organism accounting for very few foodborne illness cases annually, potentially causing severe illness requiring hospitalization. New pathogens emerge constantly, and others may disappear over time. It is difficult to predict when or where an outbreak will occur, so preventative measures are the best way to manage illness.

The most common symptoms of food poisoning are upset stomach, stomach cramps, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, fever, and muscle/body aches. The symptoms and severity can vary depending on which organism has contaminated the food. For some, prolonged diarrhea and vomiting can lead to significant dehydration. It can take a few hours to as long as a few days for food poisoning symptoms to develop. Most acute illnesses last 1 to 2 days, but certain foodborne illnesses can last weeks or even months. Most cases of foodborne diseases are self-limiting, meaning that they will run their course and resolve on their own without a formal diagnosis from a healthcare practitioner. However, certain individuals are at a greater risk of complications from consuming contaminated food. These include persons older than age 65 years, children aged younger than 5 years, pregnant women, and those with compromised immune systems. In these individuals, the immune system is not as effective against certain organisms.

Preventing Sickness During Home Food Preparation

Since it is very challenging to predict where or when an outbreak will occur, you should take the following preventative measures when preparing food:

1. Wash hands and surfaces with soap and water frequently when preparing food. Hands and surfaces can harbor and spread germs from one food to another.
2. Raw meat, eggs, and fish should be kept separate from all other foods during preparation because of their high potential for bacterial contamination.
3. Thoroughly cooking meat, eggs, and fish significantly reduces the risk of illness. There are many online resources available that provide a safe temperature for cooking and eating.
4. Food leftovers should be refrigerated as quickly as possible to prevent bacterial growth.
5. Bacteria can multiply between 40 and 140 degrees Fahrenheit, and refrigeration below 40 degrees will slow their growth.

The CDC website lists all current and past foodborne illness outbreaks and alerts about active food recalls in the U.S. You can find more information by visiting

The content contained in this article is for informational purposes only. The content is not intended to be a substitute for professional advice. Reliance on any information provided in this article is solely at your own risk.

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