Last Updated On October 02, 2020 / Written By Dakota Sheetz

The Main Causes of Food Poisoning

The Impact of Foodborne Illness

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) 48 million Americans are affected by food poisoning each year. Of the 48 million people, 138,000 get infected badly enough that they need to be hospitalized. The yearly death toll from food poisoning is approximately 3,000 people.

So yes, food poisoning can mean more than just a couple days off from work. But these are just the minority of cases, most people do recover.

Let's take a look at what it's like to have a bout of food poisoning.

Symptoms of Food Poisoning
Even mild food poisoning can be very uncomfortable. Here are the common and non-fatal symptoms of food poisoning-

  • Nausea
  • Stomach ache and cramps
  • Upset stomach
  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Fever
  • Dehydration
That said, diarrhea, left untreated, can become serious. If you've just eaten a meal and feel any of the symptoms shown above then food poisoning should be one of your suspects.

The discussion later in the article about the causes of food poisoning should put you in a better position to assess if you are indeed suffering from food poisoning.

Unfortunately, in certain cases, food poisoning can take a much more serious turn. Some of the potentially lethal symptoms of food poisoning are the following-

  • Kidney failure
  • Chronic arthritis
  • Brain and nerve damage.
Another sobering fact about food poisoning is that what is ingested might be so lethal that symptoms have no time to manifest - the food will simply kill the eater.

This is very rare though. Most of the time a person with serious symptoms is able to seek professional medical help.

People Who Are at Risk from Food Poisoning
There are some people who are more vulnerable to food poisoning. these are-

  1. Children under five years old
  2. Adults more than 65 years old
  3. Pregnant women
  4. People who are already nursing an illness
The last are vulnerable because their immune systems have already been compromised.

Having looked at the detrimental and potentially fatal effects of food poisoning let us arm ourselves with the knowledge of how and why food poisoning occurs in the first place.

The Leading Causes of Food Poisoning

The direct cause of food poisoning is infections due to bacteria, viruses, parasites, and toxins.

Germs and Other Causes of Food Poisoning
Food contamination that causes food poisoning have the following possible sources-

  • Bacteria and viruses
  • Parasites such as protozoa, tapeworms, and roundworms.
  • Natural and chemical toxins. These toxins can contaminate the food directly or they may be the by-product of parasites, viruses, and bacteria
You can also display symptoms of food poisoning not because the food is contaminated but simply because you are allergic to the food you're eating.

Top Microorganic Causes of Food Poisoning
Around 250 foodborne diseases have been identified. Many microorganisms are responsible for the same, but among a cast of hundreds there are superstars - microorganisms that are so commonly the cause of food poisoning that, chances are, their names are not so unfamiliar-

  • Salmonella - This is perhaps the most famous. Salmonella lives in human and animal intestines. Within 72 hours of a salmonella infection, a person may exhibit abdominal cramps, fever, and, most dangerously, diarrhea. Fortunately, when treated, most people recover within a few days.

  • Campylobacter - Even more common than Salmonella, Campylobacter infects people through poultry, usually eating raw or undercooked poultry or food that has been touched by contaminated poultry.

    Symptoms are the same as Salmonella and are felt two to three days after infection. Treatment is typically through antibiotics but people have been known to recover without treatment. 1.5 million infections are linked to this germ each year.

  • E. Coli - This is another household word. A name that can be applied to a group of bacteria residing in food, the environment, and in the intestines. E. Colie causes urinary tract infections, respiratory illness, and diarrhea. Symptoms appear 3 to 4 days after exposure to the bacteria.

  • Listeria - Listeria is a bacteria that causes illness of the same name. Symptoms include fever, headache, tiredness, and general aches and pains. Treatment is through antibiotics Symptoms will appear 1 to 4 weeks after exposure.

    Knowing what bacteria and viruses cause food poisoning is all well and good. Knowing when symptoms typically arise will help in tracing what food was the cause of the poisoning, for example.
Causes of Food Poisoning- The Human Angle
Another way to look at the causes of food poisoning is by finding out how the food was contaminated in the first place. This could lead to changes in the way we handle food or obtain food or cook food that could lessen or eliminate the chances of food poisoning.

The main human causes of food poisoning are-
  1. Not cooking food thoroughly. 5% of the poultry from supermarkets are contaminated with Salmonella. The percentage is even higher for Campylobacter. Cooking food thoroughly will get rid of both. With regards to shellfish, ensuring that they are cooked thoroughly means you get rid of the toxins produced by algae.

  2. Allowing food to come in contact with other food. If you have food with a bacteria, virus, parasite, or toxin and it comes into contact with other food this makes whatever food it comes in contact with hazardous as well. Not only is direct contact dangerous but using the same utensils for different foods could be a pathway to contamination.

  3. Not washing fruits and vegetables. Particularly true for fruits and vegetables that grow on or near the ground. The contaminant is on the rind or skin. The simple expedient of washing your fruits and vegetables before eating them can prevent food poisoning.

  4. Eating unpasteurized dairy food. Pasteurization is a heating process that kills germs. Unpasteurized food is 150 times more likely to be contaminated than pasteurized food. If you eat pasteurized milk and cheese exclusively that will go a long way in preventing food poisoning.

Key Takeaways

  • Food poisoning is any sickness or disease that comes from eating food.
  • 48 million Americans are affected by food poisoning each year, 138,000 are hospitalized, and 3,000 people die because of food poisoning.
  • Food poisoning symptoms can be mild like nausea or upset stomach or they could be deadly like kidney failure or brain damage.
  • Food poisoning is caused by bacteria, viruses, parasites, and toxins.
  • Some of the microorganisms causing food poisoning are Salmonella, Campylobacter, E. Coli, and Listeria.
  • Humans get food poisoning by not cooking food thoroughly, allowing bad food to contaminate good food, not washing fruits and vegetables, and eating or drinking unpasteurized dairy food.