Foodborne diseases are defined as illnesses caused by eating contaminated food. They can be bacterial infections or they can be a result of toxins in the food. More than 250 foodborne diseases have been identified. Some of these are mild, while others can have serious complications.
Campylobacter is a bacteria that is spread through eating undercooked chicken or from juices of raw chicken that drip onto other food. Most healthy birds have the bacteria, but it can be eliminated by cooking the meat thoroughly. The symptoms of a campylobacter infection are fever, abdominal cramps and diarrhea. Most people have symptoms 2 to 5 days after ingesting the bacteria. The illness usually lasts for a week but may last longer in severe cases.
Salmonella is another bacteria found in birds. It is also carried in reptiles and mammals. Salmonellosis is usually caused by ingesting the bacteria or by eating animals that were infected. Salmonellosis causes fever, abdominal cramps and diarrhea. People who are at higher risk for infections may have more serious complications from salmonellosis if it enters the bloodstream. Most people recover from the illness in 5 to 7 days without treatment.
E. coli is a bacteria that is found in the intestinal tracts of mammals, including cows, sheep, pigs, and humans. There are over 700 serotypes of the bacteria. Some are beneficial, but others are toxic to humans. E. coli O157:H7 is very dangerous and is transmitted through water or food that has been contaminated by cow feces. The illness causes abdominal pain and bloody diarrhea with little or no fever, and it will usually occur 1 to 10 days after being ingested. Severe cases can cause kidney failure or damage to other organs. Antibiotics do not kill E. coli bacteria, and hospitalization is usually required for several weeks.
Norovirus is possibly the most common cause of foodborne illness and is usually the culprit when people have the “stomach bug.” The illness is caused by ingesting contaminated feces. It is transmitted by touching infected surfaces or direct contact with another person that has the virus. Symptoms include abdominal pain, diarrhea, and nausea. The incubation period is 24 to 48 hours, and the illness usually lasts 1 to 3 days. No treatment is required unless dehydration has occurred.
There is good news. These illnesses can be largely prevented with simple steps regarding food temperature, washing procedures and surface preparation. Wash your hands with warm water and soap after using the toilet and before preparing or eating food. Cook meat using a meat thermometer to ensure that it has reached the appropriate temperature. Do not leave foods at room temperature for longer than an hour. Avoid cross-contamination by using separate utensils and cutting boards for raw meat. Wash all raw vegetables and fruit thoroughly before eating. Use a disinfectant to clean all counter tops or surfaces during and after food preparation.