January 10, 2005
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Frequently Asked Questions
What is foodborne disease?
Foodborne disease is caused by consuming contaminated foods or beverages.
Many different disease-
causing microbes, or pathogens, can contaminate foods, so there are many different foodborne infections.
In addition, poisonous chemicals, or other harmful substances can cause foodborne diseases if they are
present in food.
More than 250 different foodborne diseases have been described.
Most of these diseases are infections,
caused by a variety of bacteria, viruses, and parasites that can be foodborne.
Other diseases are
poisonings, caused by harmful toxins or chemicals that have contaminated the food, for example,
These different diseases have many different symptoms, so there is no one
"syndrome" that is foodborne illness.
However, the microbe or toxin enters the body through the
gastrointestinal tract, and often causes the first symptoms there, so nausea, vomiting, abdominal cramps
and diarrhea are common symptoms in many foodborne diseases.
Many microbes can spread in more than one way, so we cannot always know that a disease is foodborne.
The distinction matters, because public health authorities need to know how a particular disease is
spreading to take the appropriate steps to stop it.
O157:H7 infections can
spread through contaminated food, contaminated drinking water, contaminated swimming water, and
from toddler to toddler at a day care center.
Depending on which means of spread caused a case, the
measures to stop other cases from occurring could range from removing contaminated food from stores,
chlorinating a swimming pool, or closing a child day care center.
What are the most common foodborne diseases?
The most commonly recognized foodborne infections are those caused by the bacteria Campylobacter,
O157:H7, and by a group of viruses called calicivirus, also known as the Norwalk
and Norwalk-like viruses.
is a bacterial pathogen that causes fever, diarrhea, and abdominal cramps.
It is the
most commonly identified bacterial cause of diarrheal illness in the world.
These bacteria live in the
intestines of healthy birds, and most raw poultry meat has
chicken, or other food that has been contaminated with juices dripping from raw chicken is the most
frequent source of this
is also a bacterium that is widespread in the intestines of birds, reptiles and mammals.
can spread to humans via a variety of different foods of animal origin.
The illness it causes, salmonellosis,
typically includes fever, diarrhea and abdominal cramps.
In persons with poor underlying health or
weakened immune systems, it can invade the bloodstream and cause life-threatening infections.