Food-Borne Illness

Food-Borne Illness (Food Poisoning)

Food-borne disease occurs when foods aren't cooked, handled, or stored properly and become contaminated with harmful bacteria, viruses, parasites, or toxins (poisons). Food-borne disease can cause severe vomiting, diarrhea, and stomach cramps. Symptoms may not appear for 24 to 48 hours.

When to Go to the Emergency Room (ER)
Call 911 or your local emergency number if:

  • You have severe symptoms, such as bloody vomit or diarrhea, or symptoms lasting more than 12 hours.
  • You are elderly; have stomach or colon problems, chronic liver disease, or hemochromatosis; or have a suppressed immune system.
  • You suspect botulism. This is a toxin found mainly in home-canned foods. Symptoms often begin within 12 to 36 hours. They include headache, blurred vision, and muscle weakness. Botulism can be fatal. Don't delay getting help.

If you have a mild food-borne illness:

  • Rest and drink plenty of liquids.
  • Avoid solid foods until you feel better.
  • Don't take antidiarrheal medications unless your doctor tells you to.
Preventing Food Poisoning

Food poisoning is usually caused by improper food preparation or storage. Germs (bacteria) can grow in food if it is not handled right. Germs can also grow on any surface, including cutting boards and sponges. When germs get inside your body, they can cause diarrhea, vomiting, and headache. In some cases, food poisoning can be fatal if it is not treated promptly.

Store leftovers in the refrigerator right away. Divide foods in small, shallow pans to cool faster. Throw away food that has been left out for more than 2 hours.

Look Before You Buy

  • Check the “sell by” date on all foods.
  • Check that seals and wrappers are not broken, torn, or leaking.
  • Make sure cans are not bulging or dented, jars are not cracked and lids are closed tightly.
  • Check that eggs are not cracked or broken.

Wash Everything Often

  • Wash your hands often with warm, soapy water. Always wash hands after you handle raw meat or poultry.
  • Rinse all fruits and vegetables—even packaged ones.
  • Wash knives, forks, plates, and other items that touch food.
  • Wash cutting boards in hot, soapy water. Use one cutting board for meat and poultry and another for fruits and vegetables. Replace them often.
  • Clean kitchen counters before and after putting food on them.
  • Wash sponges each day. Replace them often.
  • Wash dishcloths and towels in hot, soapy water. Use one towel for hands and another for dishes.

Keep Hot Foods Hot

  • Cook meat until it reaches between 145°F and 160°F. Cook poultry until it reaches between 165°F and 180°F.
  • Do not cook chicken or turkey stuffing inside the bird. Cook it separately.
  • Cook eggs until the yolks and whites are firm.

Keep Cold Foods Cold

  • Cold foods should stay below 40°F.
  • Put cold foods in the refrigerator or freezer as soon as you bring them home. Don’t leave them in the car while running other errands.
  • Defrost frozen food in the refrigerator or in the microwave—not on the counter.
  • Pack picnics and school lunches in an insulated bag with an ice pack.

Keep Raw Foods Away from Cooked Foods

  • Never place cooked meat and poultry on a plate with raw meat juices.
  • Do not reuse a marinade or pour it over cooked food.
  • Avoid these foods when raw: meat, seafood, shellfish, eggs, and unpasteurized milk.