Food borne illness, also known as food poisoning, is a common public health problem that occurs when people consume contaminated food or drink. It is caused by harmful microorganisms such as bacteria, viruses, parasites, or their toxins that contaminate food or water.Symptoms of food borne illness can vary but often include nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, abdominal pain, and fever. In some cases, food borne illness can be severe and even life-threatening, particularly for individuals with weakened immune systems, young children, pregnant women, and elderly people. Common causes of food borne illness include improper handling and preparation of food, inadequate cooking or storage, and contamination from sources such as infected food handlers or animals. Prevention measures such as proper hand hygiene, safe food storage and preparation, and avoiding risky foods and water sources can help to reduce the incidence of food borne illness.
It is an illness caused due to ingestion of contaminated food or water that contains harmful toxins produced by microorganisms such as bacteria, viruses, parasites. These toxins can cause illness even if the microorganisms themselves are no longer present in the food. Symptoms of food intoxication usually appear within a few hours of consuming the contaminated food and can include nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, abdominal pain, and sometimes fever. Examples of microorganisms that can cause food intoxication include Staphylococcus aureus and Clostridium botulinum.
It is an illness caused due to ingestion of harmful microorganisms such as bacteria, viruses, parasites that contaminate food or water. These microorganisms can multiply and cause illness within the body. Symptoms of food infection can take longer to appear, typically within 12 to 72 hours after consuming the contaminated food, and can include diarrhea, nausea, vomiting, abdominal pain, and sometimes fever. Examples of microorganisms that can cause food infection include Salmonella, Listeria monocytogenes, and Norovirus. The most common types of food borne infections are caused by microorganisms such as bacteria, viruses, and parasites. Here are some examples of common food borne illnesses caused by these microorganisms:
1. Bacterial infections:
1.1 Salmonellosis (caused by Salmonella bacteria)
1.2 Listeriosis (caused by Listeria monocytogenes bacteria)
1.3 Campylobacteriosis (caused by Campylobacter bacteria)
1.4 E. coli infection (caused by Escherichia coli bacteria)
1.5 Clostridium perfringens infection (caused by Clostridium perfringens bacteria)
1.6 Staphylococcal food poisoning (caused by Staphylococcus aureus bacteria)
2. Viral infections:
2.1 Norovirus infection (caused by Norovirus)
2.2 Hepatitis A (caused by Hepatitis A virus)
3. Parasitic infections:
3.1 Giardiasis (caused by Giardia intestinalis parasite)
3.2 Cryptosporidiosis (caused by Cryptosporidium parasite)
3.3 Trichinellosis (caused by Trichinella parasite)
It’s important to note that there are many other microorganisms that can cause foodborne illness, and some can produce toxins that cause illness even if the microorganisms are no longer present in the food. Additionally, some foodborne illnesses are caused by chemicals or toxins in the food, rather than microorganisms.
1. Bacterial infections:
This is caused by the Salmonella bacteria and is usually contracted by eating contaminated poultry, eggs, dairy products, or fruits and vegetables. Symptoms include fever, diarrhea, abdominal cramps, and sometimes vomiting. In severe cases, the infection can spread to the bloodstream and cause a life-threatening condition. To prevent Salmonellosis, it’s important to cook food thoroughly, practice good hygiene, and avoid cross-contamination by keeping raw and cooked foods separate.
This is caused by the Listeria monocytogenes bacteria and is commonly found in raw and processed meat, dairy products, and some types of vegetables. Symptoms include fever, muscle aches, and sometimes gastrointestinal symptoms. Pregnant women, newborns, and people with weakened immune systems are particularly susceptible to severe cases of listeriosis. To prevent Listeriosis, it’s important to cook food thoroughly, wash fruits and vegetables, and avoid high-risk foods such as deli meats, soft cheeses, and unpasteurized milk.
This is caused by the Campylobacter bacteria and is often contracted by eating contaminated poultry or drinking contaminated water. Symptoms include diarrhea (sometimes bloody), fever, and abdominal pain. In some cases, the infection can lead to a serious neurological condition called Guillain-Barre syndrome. To prevent Campylobacteriosis, it’s important to cook poultry thoroughly, practice good hygiene, and avoid cross-contamination.
1.4 E. coli infection:
This is caused by the Escherichia coli bacteria, particularly the strain known as E. coli O157:H7. It is commonly found in undercooked beef, unpasteurized milk, and contaminated produce. Symptoms include severe diarrhea (sometimes bloody), abdominal pain, and sometimes fever. In some cases, the infection can lead to a life-threatening condition called hemolytic uremic syndrome (HUS). To prevent E. coli infection, it’s important to cook meat thoroughly, practice good hygiene, and avoid cross-contamination.
1.5 Clostridium perfringens infection:
This is caused by the Clostridium perfringens bacteria and is often contracted by eating contaminated meat or poultry that has been cooked and then left at room temperature for an extended period. Symptoms include abdominal pain, diarrhea, and sometimes vomiting. The infection is rarely life-threatening, but can be uncomfortable. To prevent Clostridium perfringens infection, it’s important to cook meat thoroughly and either serve it immediately or refrigerate it promptly.
1.6 Staphylococcal food poisoning:
This is caused by the Staphylococcus aureus bacteria and is often contracted by eating foods that have been prepared by food handlers who have contaminated their hands or surfaces with the bacteria. Symptoms include nausea, vomiting, and sometimes diarrhea and abdominal cramps. The infection is usually mild and resolves on its own within a day or two. To prevent Staphylococcal food poisoning, it’s important for food handlers to practice good hygiene and for consumers to properly store and reheat leftovers.
2. Viral infections:
2.1 Norovirus infection:
This is caused by the Norovirus and is highly contagious. It is often contracted by eating contaminated shellfish or foods that have been handled by infected individuals. Symptoms include nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, and stomach cramps. The infection usually resolves within a few days and is rarely life-threatening. To prevent Norovirus infection, it’s important to practice good hygiene, especially when preparing and serving food.
2.2 Hepatitis A:
This is caused by the Hepatitis A virus and is often contracted by eating contaminated food or drinking contaminated water. Symptoms include fever, fatigue, loss of appetite, nausea, abdominal pain, and jaundice. In some cases, the infection can be severe and lead to liver failure. To prevent Hepatitis A, it’s important to practice good hygiene, especially when preparing and serving food, and to get vaccinated.
3. Parasitic infections:
This is caused by the Giardia intestinalis parasite and is often contracted by drinking contaminated water or eating contaminated produce. Symptoms include diarrhea, abdominal cramps, bloating, and sometimes nausea and vomiting. The infection can last for weeks or even months. To prevent Giardiasis, it’s important to practice good hygiene, especially when traveling to areas with poor sanitation, and to drink only safe water.
This is caused by the Cryptosporidium parasite and is often contracted by drinking contaminated water or swimming in contaminated water sources. Symptoms include diarrhea, abdominal cramps, nausea, and sometimes fever. The infection can last for several weeks and can be particularly severe in people with weakened immune systems. To prevent Cryptosporidiosis, it’s important to drink only safe water and avoid swimming in contaminated water sources.
This is caused by the Trichinella parasite and is often contracted by eating undercooked pork or wild game. Symptoms include nausea, diarrhea, abdominal cramps, and sometimes fever and muscle pain. In severe cases, the infection can lead to heart and respiratory problems. To prevent Trichinellosis, it’s important to cook pork and wild game thoroughly and to avoid eating meat from unknown sources.
Both food intoxication and food infection can cause similar symptoms, but the underlying cause and the way they affect the body are different. Understanding the cause of a foodborne illness is important in determining the appropriate treatment and prevention measures.
In general, to prevent foodborne illness it’s important to practice good food safety habits such as washing hands and surfaces frequently, separating raw and cooked foods, cooking foods to the appropriate temperature, and storing foods properly. Additionally, it’s important to be aware of high-risk foods and to take extra precautions when handling and preparing them.
- Foodborne Illnesses: What You Need to Know. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). https://www.cdc.gov/foodsafety/foodborne-germs.html
- Food Safety and Foodborne Illness. World Health Organization (WHO). https://www.who.int/news-room/questions-and-answers/item/food-safety-and-foodborne-illness
- Food Microbiology: An Introduction. Thomas J. Montville, Karl R. Matthews, and Kalmia E. Kniel. American Society for Microbiology, 2012.
- Foodborne Pathogens: Microbiology and Molecular Biology. Pina M. Fratamico, Yanhong Liu, and Christopher H. Sommers. Caister Academic Press, 2018.
- Food Safety: Theory and Practice. Paul L. Dawson. Academic Press, 2017.
Name : Pratiksha Shrestha
Ms. Shrestha holds masters degree in food engineering and bioprocess technology from Asian Institute of Technology (AIT) Thailand. She is currently working for Government of Nepal at Department of Food Technology and Quality Control (DFTQC), Kathmandu. She is also a teaching faculty in College of Applied food and Dairy Technology (CAFODAT) affiliated to Purbanchal university, Nepal.