Foodborne Illness

By Tabitha Mishra
Last updated: April 24, 2022

What Does Foodborne Illness Mean?

A foodborne illness is an illness acquired by consuming foods or beverages that have been contaminated by pathogens.

Symptoms of foodborne illnesses range from mild gastroenteritis to more dangerous neurological effects.

Safeopedia Explains Foodborne Illness

Foodborne illnesses are infections caused by different types of bacteria, viruses, parasites, toxins, metals, and prions. The most common sources of these infections are:

  • Norovirus
  • Salmonella
  • Clostridium perfringens
  • Campylobacter
  • Staphylococcus aureus (staph)

Foods that Carry Illnesses

While any food product can harborb pathogens, certain foods carry a higher risk:

  • Raw or insufficiently cooked meat, seafood, or eggs
  • Unpasteurized milk, fruit juices, and ciders
  • Raw sprouts (their growing conditions are also ideal for the growth of microbes)
  • Unwashed fruits and vegetables that have come into contact with manure or raw animal-based ingredients
  • Food that has been handled by someone with a communicable disease

Causes of Common Foodborne Illnesses

  • E. Coli: can live in the human intenstine and enter the body through contaminated food or water
  • Norovirus: in addition to spreading through the consumption of food and water, is easily transmissible between people
  • Salmonella: can cause:
    • Salmonellosis, which is characterized by nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, cramps, and fever
    • Enteric fever, which is characterized by high fever, diarrhea, aches, headaches, and drowsiness
  • Campylobacter: can enter the body through contaminated water, unpasteurized milk or cheese, and uncooked or undercooked poultry and meat
  • Hepatitis A: caused by the Hepatitis A virus, which can be acquired through contaminated water, shellfish, and leafy greens
  • Listeria: although not common, it is one of the leading causes of death from foodborne illnesses. There are two forms of the disease:
    • Mild to intense symptoms of nausea, vomiting, aches, fever, and sometimes diarrhea – usually resolves itself
    • Invasive listeriosis, a deadly form that occurs when the infection enters the blood or brain, potentially causing a blood infection and meningitis. If acquired during pregnancy, can result in severe complications, including miscarriage or stillbirth

Controls and Regulations

Food quality and control measures for the prevention of foodborne illnesses are primarily regulated by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), and local public health authorities.

The following references provide information on the control and prevention of foodborne disease:


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