The following microorganisms have been identified by the U.S. Public Health Service as the biggest causes of foodborne illness. They have been categorized due to severity of sickness once infected, or the number of cases they have caused sickness in.
Campylobacter has recently topped the charts, placing over Salmonella, as the number one cause of foodborne illness in the United States. It causes a disease called Campylobacteriosis. Within two to five days after exposure you may become ill with symptoms like: diarrhea, cramping, fever, and abdominal pain. Nausea may in some cases lead to vomiting, and stool may include traces of blood. Though not all people who have been exposed to the organism experience any symptoms. However, in those with weakened immune systems, Campylobacter can spread to the bloodstream resulting in a life-threatening infection.
No major outbreaks of Campylobacter have been recorded. It either comes in isolated events or a sporadic one. FoodNet says that each year about 14 cases are recorded for every 100.000 people. Since many cases go unreported, Campylobacter is estimated to infect about 1.3 million people each year. It is more common to result in infants, young adults, and the elderly; targeting weakened immune systems. Although death is uncommon, approximately 76 people die from Campylobacter infections each year.
Most cases of Campylobacter result from the consumption of raw or undercooked meats or cross-contamination from raw products to another surface touching something that was later consumed. Outbreaks, stemming tomore than two people, are typically found to come from unpasteurized dairy products, poultry, contaminated water, and produce. Since it takes only a small amount to infect someone, safety measures need to be strictly followed. One drop of juice from a raw meat could infect a person or surface with campylobacter.
How to Prevent Campylobacter:
- All poultry and meat products should be thoroughly cooked to their proper suggested internal temperature; which can be monitored with a food thermometer.
- Always be sure to wash your hands after touching a raw meat so the clean surfaces or foods you touch after have a lower risk of infection.
- Wash all food contact surfaces with soap and hot water.
- Do not drink unpasteurized or untreated liquids.
- Clostridium botulinum:
Clostridium botulinum produces a toxin that causes botulism, an illness that is life-threatening as it can prevent the muscles that control breathing from pumping air in and out of the lungs.
Symptoms begin to occur with weakness of muscles including the face, eyes, mouth, and throat. Weakness may spread to the neck, torso, legs, and arms. Botulism in extreme cases can weaken the muscles controlling breathing which can halt the lungs functions.
C. botulinum spores can be found in honey, so it is suggested not to give honey to children under 12 months old because it can be fatal and has been linked in cases of infant botulism.
The toxin can grow in conditions of:
- Low sugar
- Low Salt
- A low or no-oxygen environment
- Low acid
- A certain temperature
- Within a certain amount of water
Home-canned, preserved, and fermented foods can provide the right environment for spores to grow and produce the toxin.
- Double vision
- Blurred vision
- Drooping eyelids
- Slurred speech
- Difficulty swallowing
- Thick-tongue feeling
- Dry mouth
- Muscle weakness
Infants with Botulism:
- Appear lethargic
- May not eat
- Have constipation
- Have a weak cry
- Muscle tone decreases (appearing floppy)
Symptoms usually occur 18-36 hours post consumption of a contaminated product. Though in some cases is can start after 6 hours, or even after ten days. If untreated, it can result in the paralysis of some muscles.
- E. coli O157:H7
E. coli is also known as Escherichia coli, a bacteria related to foodborne illness. It is found in the environment, foods, and intestines of people and animals. Most strains of E. coli are harmless, but some can make you sick; causing diarrhea, urinary tract infections, respiratory illness and pneumonia, amongst other illnesses.
E. coli can be transmitted through contaminated water or foods, and through contacts with people or animals. Usually, E. coli is treated and cured within 5-10 days and in most cases, antibiotics aren’t required.
- Abdominal cramping
- Diarrhea and bloody stool
- Loss of appetite
- Listeria monocytogenes:
Listeria monocytogenes is also known as Listeriosis. This is an infection typically caused by consuming food infected with the bacteria. A year, 1600 people are estimated to get Listeriosis; 260 of them ending in fatality. The infection is more likely to affect pregnant women, people 65 years of age or older, and those with a weakened immune system.
Decades ago, Listeria was found linked more so in deli meats and hot dogs. Now, outbreaks stem more from dairy products and produce.
Pregnant women typically experience cold or flu like symptoms if they become infected with Listeria. Other symptoms of foodborne illness such as fatigue and muscle aches are also common. But infections during pregnancy can lead to stillbirth, premature delivery, and infections to the child that can be life-threatening. In people who are not pregnant, symptoms can include: headache, stiff neck, loss of balance, confusion, fever, and convulsions in extreme cases.
Those with invasive Listeriosis have reported symptoms occurring 1-4 weeks after eating contaminated food. Although, symptoms have been reported to begin as later as 70 days post exposure to the bacteria.
Norovirus is a contagious bacteria that can be transmitted through infected people, water and food, or by contacting contaminated surfaces. The bacteria leads to inflammation of the stomach and intestines, causing stomach pain, diarrhea, vomiting, and nausea.
Even after symptoms disappear, the virus still remains in your body with traces in your stool for up to two weeks. You are most contagious to others while you are sick, up to a few days after you begin to feel better. The spread of norovirus can be spread by accidental consumption of bodily fluid from another infected person. Such as drinking contaminated water, touching contaminated surfaces and then putting your hands in your mouth, and sharing food or utensils with someone who is infected.
There is no antibiotic treatment for Norovirus, but one of the most important things to remember is to stay hydrated during the time you are sick.
Salmonella is one of the most common diarrheal diseases, and one of the most common causes of foodborne illness. Although its number one spot was recently replaced by Campylobacter, it does not change that fact that Salmonella isn’t uncommon. It is estimated to infect about 1 million people a year, resulting in around 380 deaths.
Most people infected with Salmonella develop a fever, diarrhea, and abdominal cramps. Symptoms begin to occurs 12-72 hours after being infected. The infection typically lasts only 4-7 days and is cured on its own; however, if symptoms are too severe hospitalization may be required.
To prevent Salmonella, thoroughly cook all meats, eggs, and poultry. Properly clean all foods and food-contact-surfaces to prevent cross-contamination.
- Staphylococcus aureus:
The bacteria Staphylococcus is also known as, Staph. Staph is found on the nose and skin of about 25% of healthy people. With strong immune systems and good health, Staph will not usually affect the person. However, it has the ability to produce toxins that can cause foodborne illness.
Staph is able to be found in unpasteurized dairy products such as milk and cheese. Although, it is salt tolerant. That means that it is able to grow in salty foods such as ham. The toxins multiply in the food that it infects, being heat tolerant and unable to be killed once cooked. Foods that are especially likely to be contaminated are ones that are handled and not later cooked such as deli meats, sandwiches, pastries, etc.
Severe illness is uncommon with Staphylococcus aureus. Symptoms will begin 30 minutes to 6 hours after being infected, relating to other symptoms of foodborne illness such as: vomiting, nausea, stomach pain, and diarrhea. It usually last around one day and is not contagious.
The illness is not treatable by antibiotics, the most effective thing to do is keep your body hydrated by drinking plenty of fluids.
Shigellosis is an infectious disease caused by the bacteria known as Shigella. After being exposed to the bacteria, it can take around two days to start experiencing symptoms. Symptoms include: diarrhea, nausea, and stomach aches. Shigellosis will normally go away within 5-7 days but is transmittable to others even if symptoms aren’t experienced. You can prevent the spread of Shigella bacteria by washing your hands before touching food and food contact surfaces, as well as maintaining other proper hygiene measures.
- Toxoplasma gondii:
Toxoplasmosis is the leading cause in death by foodborne illness. More than 30 million people in the United States carry the Toxoplasma parasite; but no symptoms because strong immune systems can prevent the bacteria from causing illness. However, anybody with a weakened immune system are at serious risk. It can be found in sources such as raw meats and undercooked pork.
Drugs can be taken to help cure symptoms and possibly eliminate the disease. But, it can still remain in cell tissue which makes medication hard to reach it. All foods should be cooked at their recommended safe internal temperature and all food contact surfaces should be properly cleaned and sanitized.
- Vibrio vulnificus:
Also known as Vibriosis, this bacteria causes about 80,000 illnesses in the United States each year, 100 ending in death. Raw or undercooked seafoods are a leading cause of the spread of Vibrio vulnificus; as well as open-wound exposure to seawater. Warmer temperatures house the bacteria more, during the months of May through October. Infections can lead to gastroenteritis, wound infection, and bloodstream infections.
Symptoms include: abdominal pain, vomiting, fever, nausea, and chills. Symptoms will begin about 24 hours post ingestion, and last up to three or more days. Sever illness is rare and is usually only common in those with a weakened immune system.