Common Foodborne Illness | 4 mins read

The 6 Most Common Foodborne Illnesses

the 6 most common foodborne illnesses
Cynthia Vespia

By Cynthia Vespia

The Biggest Cause of Foodborne Illness

The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) monitors outbreaks of foodborne disease in the United States and across the globe. The data they collect helps public health to more clearly identify what is causing food poisoning. Knowing the common foodborne diseases helps in creating a food safety plan that will limit infectious diseases from spreading long term.

Common culprits of foodborne illness
It's been found that poultry meat, especially chicken, is the biggest contributor to common foodborne illness cases. From 2009 to 2015 chicken was the cause of over 3,000 food poisoning cases. Because chicken is so versatile, it is used more than any other protein. This increases the chance cross-contamination occurring from raw chicken and other foods.

How to stay safe
Chicken should be handled in a safe manner throughout the storage, preparation and cooking process. Ensuring the chicken is cooked all the way through is the most important safety tip. Undercooked chicken can harbor bacteria like salmonella which is a common cause of foodborne illnesses.

  • Place chicken in a plastic bag when refrigerating to prevent raw juices from contaminating other foods.
  • Wash hands thoroughly after handling raw chicken.
  • Avoid washing raw chicken.
  • Use a separate cutting board for raw chicken.
  • Never place other foods on a surface where raw chicken sat.
  • Wash cutting boards, utensils, dishes and countertops according to standards after preparing chicken.
  • Use a meat thermometer to ensure the internal temperature of the chicken is 165 F.
  • Refrigerate leftover chicken within 2 hours.

The Six Most Common Foodborne Illnesses

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Health departments state there are over 250 different forms of infections disease from food. But a few specific pathogens are responsible for 90 percent of all foodborne illnesses. They are-

1. Norovirus
Norovirus (also called Norwalk virus) is the most common pathogen involved with food poisoning. It has been responsible for 5.4 million foodborne illness cases every year. Infected persons can spread the virus easily through cross-contaminated foods or direct contact. Norovirus is resistant to disinfectants, chlorine or alcohol. It can also live in extreme hot or cold temperatures. The way to avoid getting the Norovirus is by practicing safe food handling and consistent hand-washing.

2. Salmonella
Salmonella is a bacteria that can contaminate most foods. It is responsible for over 1.2 million cases of foodborne illness each year. Salmonella can spread from cross contamination as well. If raw meat or poultry has the bacteria and drips onto a kitchen surface it can spread to other foods. Symptoms include fever, abdominal cramps and vomiting. Children and older adults, or those with chronic diseases, can have more extreme symptoms that are life threatening. The ways to limit the spread of salmonella include cooking foods thoroughly, hand-washing, and proper food storage techniques.

3. Clostridium perfringens
Clostridium causes approximately 1 million food related illness per year. It lives in what's known as danger zone temperatures which range between 40 and 140 degrees. If meat isn't cooked at a high enough temperature to kill the bacteria, it can grow during holding temperatures. Diarrhea and stomach cramps are the main symptoms. Prevention starts with cooking food thoroughly to a safe temperature. Food should be held at 140F or warmer or 40F or colder.

4. Campylobacter
The U.S. cases of campylobacter related illnesses reach 1.3 million each year. Most cases of campylobacter can be traced back to raw or undercooked poultry. Also, any food that has come into contact with the contaminated poultry can also be a factor. Unpasteurized milk and contaminated water have also been linked to campylobacter illness. Cooking meat thoroughly is important to protect from campylobacter. Safe handling of food, including proper hand washing, should be instituted. And unpasteurized milk or other dairy products should be avoided.

5. E. coli
Escherichia coli (E. coli) is a bacteria normally found in the intestines of healthy humans and animals. The strains of E.coli that are harmful, such as E. coli O157-H7, are the ones that cause foodborne illnesses. E. coli can cause diarrhea, abdominal cramps, bloody diarrhea and vomiting. Exposure to E.coli comes from drinking contaminated water or eating contaminated foods, especially in raw form like undercooked ground beef. Young children, older adults and people with weakened immune systems are at a greater risk of developing severe problems such as kidney failure. To protect against developing an E. coli illness, meats should be cooked thoroughly and stored correctly.

6. Listeria
Listeria monocytogenes are foodborne pathogens that cause people to get sick from consuming deli meats or raw milk products. It can be very serious for people over age 65 and also for pregnant women. Unlike other pathogens, listeria can survive and grow in colder temperatures. The only way to kill the bacteria is by thorough cooking or proper pasteurization. Milk products should always be pasteurized and never consumed in their raw form. This includes any cheeses.

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Clearing up Common Foodborne Illness Questions

  • The top six common foodborne illnesses are listeria, E. coli, salmonella, norovirus, clostridium perfringens, and campylobacter.
  • Listeria can be very dangerous to pregnant women.
  • Keep refrigerators, utensils, cooking, and prep surfaces clean and sanitized to reduce the spread of contamination.
  • Undercooked or raw chicken is the top contributor to common foodborne illnesses.

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