In many cases, food poisoning is caused by someone’s mishandling – either during manufacturing or preparation – or because of sanitation issues or chemical contamination.
Every time you eat, someone else’s action or inaction could cause you to become ill.
What is Food Poisoning?
Food poisoning is a general term used to describe what occurs when a person eats food that has been exposed to one of many different types of contaminants.
There are several different types of food poisoning, but some are more common than others.
The most common types of food poisoning include:
Salmonellosis is caused by the salmonella bacteria and is to blame for at least 40,000 cases of food poisoning annually. Symptoms can be mild, so it’s possible to be ill without realizing you’ve been affected by salmonella.
Symptoms of salmonellosis include diarrhea, fever, and abdominal cramping, and they typically last for about four to seven days. In rare cases, the infection spreads to the bloodstream and can lead to life-threatening illness.
E. Coli, which stands for Escherichia coli, is a group of bacteria, some of which cause food poisoning illness. Symptoms of E. coli include diarrhea, stomach cramps, and vomiting.
Listeriosis is the illness caused when a person eats food contaminated with the listeria bacteria. Symptoms include a diarrhea, gastrointestinal distress, muscle aches, and fever. In many cases the illness spreads beyond the digestive system and can be fatal.
Botulism is the illness caused by exposure to Clostridium botulinum. Symptoms usually arise within six to 10 days after exposure and include slurred speech, dry mouth, blurred and double vision, muscle weakness, and drooping eyelids. Botulism is serious and can be fatal if the respiratory system is paralyzed as a result of the illness.
What are the Symptoms of Food Poisoning?
Food poisoning symptoms range from mild to severe. They might last just a few hours or cause you to be sick for several days. The types of symptoms you experience are based on how the food was contaminated.
In most cases, food poisoning will cause:
- Abdominal pain
There are more than 250 foodborne diseases known today and most are linked to viruses, bacteria, or parasites.
How is Food Contaminated?
There are many ways food can be contaminated, but in nearly every case the contamination was avoidable.
Most often, food is contaminated because of poor sanitation or handling practices. This means someone manufacturing or preparing your food failed to wash his or her hands before touching it and whatever was present made its way onto the food and into your body.
It’s also possible that food stored improperly can cause food poisoning. And sometimes, food poisoning is transmitted because food touches machines that have not been properly cleaned.
How Common is Food Poisoning?
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), approximately 76 million people become ill due to food poisoning each year.
Not all of these cases are serious, but hundreds of thousands of people require hospitalization on an annual basis due to food poisoning, and about 3000 to 5000 people die each year.
Those with weakened or compromised immune systems who are exposed to contaminated food have the highest risk for serious complications. Children and older adults also have an elevated risk for serious medical complications due to food poisoning.
What Types of Foods Put You at Risk for Food Poisoning?
You can get food poisoning from any type of food, but some carry a higher risk than others.
There have been several instances of food poisoning in the last decade linked to contaminated cantaloupe, peanut butter, chicken, turkey, cucumbers, and spinach. Specific restaurants have also had serious outbreaks of food poisoning, including:
- Jack in the Box
- Taco Bell
In each of these cases, the food manufacturers and restaurants were forced to notify the public and compensate those affected. Their reputations also suffered and many had to wait years to recover from the damage done by the food poisoning outbreak.
Food poisoning should be taken seriously, even if it appears to be a mild case, and symptoms should be reported to the local authorities in order to monitor for widespread outbreaks.