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Disease Control Archive Detail

Focus on Health - Foodborne Illnesses

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What are foodborne illnesses?

Foodborne illnesses are caused by consuming contaminated foods or beverages. More than 250 different foodborne diseases have been identified. Most of these diseases are infections, caused by bacteria, viruses and parasites that can be carried in food.

Are foodborne illnesses common?

The Center for Disease Control (CDC) estimates that 76 million Americans get sick, more than 300,000 are hospitalized and 5,000 people die from foodborne illnesses each year. Most of these Foodborne illnesses are spread in a variety of ways. One way is by raw eggs.illnesses can be linked to four common types of bacteria:

  • Salmonella
  • E. Coli
  • Campylobacter
  • Listeriosis

How are these illnesses spread?

These bacteria can contaminate foods and drinks and can make a person ill.

Foodborne illnesses are spread in a variety of ways. The most common include:

  • Raw meat and poultry
  • Raw eggs
  • Unpasteurized milk and juices
  • Raw shellfish

What are the symptoms?

Most foodborne illnesses are very mild and symptoms may last only a day or two. Mild symptoms include: diarrhea, stomach pain, fever, nausea or vomiting.

What should you do if you think you have a foodborne illness?

A foodborne illness can be very serious, especially in the very young, women who are pregnant, the elderly and anyone with a lowered immune system. You should call your doctor if you have:

  • high fever
  • bloody stools
  • prolonged vomiting
  • signs of dehydration
  • diarrhea lasting longer than 3 days

How can this be prevented?

There are some simple things that you can do to prevent foodborne illness:

  • Cook meat, poultry and eggs well.
    • Ground beef should be cooked to an internal temperature of 160°F.
    • Eggs should be cooked until the yolk is firm.
  • Always wash your hands, utensils and cutting boards after they touch raw meat or poultry and before they touch another food.
    • Put cooked meat on a clean plate, rather back on one that held the raw meat.
  • Refrigerate leftover foods if they are not going to be eaten within 4 hours. Bacteria can grow quickly at room temperature.
  • Wash produce.
    • Rinse fresh fruits and vegetables in running tap water to remove dirt and grime that you can see.
    • Remove and throw away the outer leaves of lettuce or cabbage.
    • Don’t leave cut produce at room temperature for many hours.
  • Don't be a source of foodborne illness yourself.
    • Wash your hands with soap and water before preparing food.
    • Do not prepare food for others if you have diarrhea.
    • Changing a baby's diaper while preparing food can easily spread illness.

If you suspect foodborne illness, report it to your local health department. (Buncombe County Health Department - 250-5000.) The local public health department is an important part of the food safety system. Outbreaks are often first detected by calls from concerned citizens.

For more information go to and click on “Foodborne Infections: General Information.”