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6 Most Common Foodborne Illnesses

Feeling queasy? Cramped? Can’t get to the bathroom quickly enough? If you eat food, you’re bound to encounter a food borne illness (or illnesses) at least once. After all, there are 48 million cases of food borne illnesses per year. Among the most at risk are pregnant woman and young children. That said, these illnesses are usually preventable. Go wash your hands. But seriously! It can be as simple as that. We’re breaking down the top 6 most common food borne illnesses so that you know what to avoid and what to look out for.


Remember when your mom told you to stop eating raw cookie dough? She wasn’t making things up – salmonella’s the reason why you should keep your hands off that dough. There are two types of illnesses associated with salmonella: salmonellosis and enteric fever. Enteric fever is the more serious of the two – without treatment, up to 10% of people infected with it can die. Yikes! Salmonella spreads through contaminated water or food. Fun fact: even spices and nuts can be contaminated. The key is to wash your hands (duh), avoid cross-contamination when cooking (i.e. don’t go rubbing your raw salmon on your spinach) and cook foods thoroughly. Most people inflected will not have symptoms. Those who do will have the chills, diarrhea, and a fever which will usually subside after a couple days.


Camp-yl-what? Not as fun as summer camp, that’s what. This is one of the most common types of foodborne illnesses (and the most difficult to pronounce). Rather than causing outbreaks, Campylobacter usually infects people sporadically. It spreads through contaminated water, unpasteurized dairy or raw/undercooked poultry. It rarely occurs in meat or seafood, though it is possible. The usual suspects (nausea, vomiting, diarrhea) occur in 2-5 days and can last for up to 10 days. In rare cases, Campylobacter can spread to the bloodstream which can be life-threatening.


If you’re already grimacing, join the club. Salad lovers beware – E.coli outbreaks typically occur when raw foods are consumed (looking at all you kale salad and juice lovers). That said, not all E.coli bacteria cause serious illness. In fact, most do not. If you’re not feeling quite right, watch out for the usual suspects (diarrhea, vomiting) which can escalate in extreme cases (i.e. bloody diarrhea). A minority of cases may lead to serious illness, especially among pregnant women and young children. As always, call your doc if symptoms worsen.


Hint – this isn’t related to wisteria flowers. Listeria is far less lovely, as uncommon as it may be. Pregnant women and families should avoid unpasteurized foods. Be sure to keep your fridge at 40 degrees and as always, avoid cross contamination by keeping raw food away from cooked food. This infection can cause a miscarriage, preterm labor and severe illness or death of the newborn. For people who are not pregnant, symptoms include confusion, a stiff neck, headache, and a loss of balance.


AKA, the stomach bug or the stomach flu – though it’s unrelated to the flu. Turns out that sharing isn’t always caring. This super contagious virus spreads from person to person, or it can occur after contaminated food or water is consumed. It’s the most common cause for acute gastroenteritis – 19-21 million cases occur per year. It won’t be long before you know you’re sick since symptoms show up in 12-48 hours. You can count on projectile vomiting, cramps, diarrhea, headaches and even a mild fever. Be sure to stock up on Gatorade and BRAT diet foods so you remain hydrated and nourished!

Hepatitis A:

Though it’s not reassuring, this food-borne illness isn’t nearly as serious as the others we’ve mentioned. Also, it’s preventable by getting the vaccination. It’s spread by contaminated food (typically salads or shellfish) and/or water. You probably won’t know you’ve gotten it for several weeks, but the symptoms usually disappear within about a week. Look out for the usual symptoms. Other symptoms include a yellowing of the whites of eyes/skin, fever and a decreased appetite.

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