Foodborne Germs and Illnesses

Causes of Food Poisoning

Many different disease-causing germs can contaminate foods, so there are many different foodborne infections (also called foodborne disease or food poisoning).

  • Researchers have identified more than 250 foodborne diseases.
  • Most of them are infections, caused by a variety of bacteria, viruses, and parasites.
  • Harmful toxins and chemicals also can contaminate foods and cause foodborne illness.

CDC estimates that each year 48 million people get sick from a foodborne illness, 128,000 are hospitalized, and 3,000 die.

Do I Have Food Poisoning?

Elderly lady in hospital bed high risk for food poisoning

Common symptoms of foodborne diseases are nausea, vomiting, stomach cramps, and diarrhea. However, symptoms may differ among the different types of foodborne diseases. Symptoms can sometimes be severe, and some foodborne illnesses can even be life-threatening. Although anyone can get a foodborne illness, some people are more likely to develop one. Those groups include:

  • Older adults
  • Young children
  • People with immune systems weakened from medical conditions, such as diabetes, liver disease, kidney disease, organ transplants, or HIV/AIDS, or from receiving chemotherapy or radiation treatment.
  • Pregnant women

Most people with a foodborne illness get better without medical treatment, but people with severe symptoms should see their doctor.

Some Common Foodborne Germs

The top five germs that cause illnesses from food eaten in the United States are:

Some other germs don’t cause as many illnesses, but when they do, the illnesses are more likely to lead to hospitalization. Those germs include:

Graphical illustration of ecoli

E. coli

See a complete A-Z index of foodborne germs >>

Food Safety Tips
4 steps to food safety - clean, separate, cook, chill

Anyone can get sick from eating contaminated food. Follow four simple food safety steps—clean, separate, cook, and chill—to lower your chance of food poisoning and to protect yourself and your loved ones.