Foodborne Pathogens

Foodborne illnesses (commonly known as food poisoning) are often caused by eating food contaminated by bacteria and/or their toxins, parasites, viruses, chemicals, or other agents. Although the food supply in the United States is among the safest in the world, the federal government estimates that there are about 48 million cases of foodborne illness each year. This estimate equates to 1 in 6 Americans getting sick from contaminated food, resulting in about 128,000 hospitalizations and 3,000 deaths.

Food Pathogens occur when people eat or drink food or drink that is contaminated with pathogens, chemicals, or toxins. There are several factors that can contribute to the symptoms and severity of food poisoning, including a weakened immune system and age. When the FDA learns of an outbreak, the agency’s Coordinated Outbreak Response and Assessment Network (CORE) works closely with state and local partners and the Centers for Disease Control to identify the cause and prevent further illness. When necessary, FDA works with food manufacturers to facilitate voluntary recalls of potentially contaminated products; the agency also has mandatory recall authorities under the FDA’s Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA).

Causes of food poisoning

Many different germs that cause illness can contaminate food, so there are many different foodborne infections (also called foodborne illness or food poisoning).

  • Researchers have identified more than 250 foodborne illnesses.
  • Most of them are infections caused by a variety of bacteria, viruses, and parasites.
  • Toxins and harmful chemicals can also contaminate food and cause foodborne illness.

Do I have food poisoning?

Common symptoms of foodborne illness are nausea, vomiting, stomach cramps, and diarrhoea. However, symptoms can differ between different types of foodborne illnesses. Symptoms can sometimes be severe, and some foodborne illnesses can even be life-threatening. Although anyone can get a foodborne illness, some people are more likely to develop it. Those groups include:

  • Older adults
  • Small children
  • People with weakened immune systems from medical conditions such as diabetes, liver disease, kidney disease, organ transplants, or HIV/AIDS, or from receiving chemotherapy or radiation therapy.
  • Pregnant women

Most people with foodborne illnesses get better without medical treatment, but people with severe symptoms should see their doctor.

Some Common Foodborne Germs

The top five germs that cause illness from foods eaten in the United States are:

  • norovirus
  • Salmonella
  • Clostridium perfringens
  • Campylobacter
  • Staphylococcus aureus (staphylococcus)

Some other germs don’t cause as much illness, but when they do, illnesses are more likely to lead to hospitalization. Those germs include:

  • Clostridium botulinum (botulism)
  • listeria
  • Escherichia coli (E.coli)
  • vibrio