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Healthy Eating

Does Foodborne Illness Make You Feel Sick?

The best way to protect you from Foodborne illness is to educate yourself and make food safety a priority.

Foodborne illness is a serious concern in the United States. Approximately 48 million people get sick each year from consuming contaminated food with harmful bacteria, viruses, parasites, or toxins. Also known as “food poisoning,” foodborne illness is one of the most common health concerns in the country. If you feel sick after eating out or after handling uncooked food, you may have been exposed to one of these pathogens: Salmonella, E.coli, and Listeria. Adequate food safety practices lead to less foodborne illness.

What are foodborne illness?

Foodborne illness is a common term that refers to the illness caused by eating contaminated food or water. Foods can become infected by bacteria, viruses, and parasites that may come from the food itself or from contact with people who handle the food.

Do foodborne illnesses make you feel sick?

Foodborne illnesses make people sick, usually with vomiting and diarrhea. Many bacteria and viruses that cause foodborne diseases can also cause colds and other infections. Some foodborne illnesses don’t make you feel sick at all.

Toxins in foods also make people sick. For example, poisonous mushrooms can damage your liver, kidneys, or brain if you eat them!

Here are three examples of common foodborne illness:

  1. Salmonella is one of the most common foodborne illnesses in the United States. It causes diarrhea, fever, and abdominal cramps 12 to 72 hours after eating contaminated food. In some cases, salmonellosis can lead to more serious complications such as arthritis or heart problems. It can even be fatal!
  2. Norovirus causes inflammation of the stomach and intestines, leading to vomiting and diarrhea. It can spread from person to person through contact with contaminated surfaces or objects like telephones or door handles—even by coughing or sneezing! It’s very contagious and is often called “stomach flu” because it can cause flu-like symptoms (including headache).
  3. Botulism is a rare illness that can cause paralysis and death. Some symptoms of botulism include blurred vision, drooping eyelids or redness of the eye pupils, difficulty speaking, swallowing, or breathing. Botulism is treated with an anti-toxin, which can reverse its effects.

Here are some things that can contaminate food:

  • Animal feces (from meat)
  • Unwashed hands (from meat and vegetables)
  • Farm animals’ bodies (from eggs and unpasteurized dairy)
  • Unwashed fruits and vegetables from the garden or grocery store
  • Wild animals (from freshwater sources; many outbreaks are from contamination of drinking water)
  • Insects (from honey, fruits, and vegetables)
  • Rodent droppings in grain crops, flour mills, and bakeries
  • Spilled food particles on kitchen counters/cutting boards
  • Flies/insects around garbage cans/trash bags**
  • 10. Dirty equipment and utensils used in food preparation

Who is at risk and why?

Anyone can get a foodborne illness if they eat contaminated food. However, people who are at higher risk include:

  • Older adults
  • Young children
  • People with weakened immune systems (such as those with cancer or H.I.V.)
  • Persons who take medications that weaken their immune systems (such as steroids)
  • People have chronic medical conditions such as diabetes, kidney disease, or liver disease. For these people, the risk of getting a serious case of food poisoning is increased because their bodies do not process food and healthy individuals.
  • People who live in nursing homes or other long-term care facilities may also be at high risk for foodborne illness. This is because of poor sanitary conditions and understaffing in these facilities.
  • Traveling to foreign countries can present many risks, including a change in climate, a large amount of food, unhygienic conditions, and a new language.

What foods do foodborne illnesses come from?

Foodborne illnesses do not come from the food itself. They come from microorganisms living in your food.

Pathogens can be found in the soil, water, air, and on our hands, animals, fish, and shellfish that we get from the environment. Once pathogens get onto our food, they grow and multiply quickly at room temperature because it’s warm inside our homes. But cooking kills them on contact! So it’s important to follow safe food-handling practices every time you prepare your family’s meals to kill any potential pathogens before they reach your stomach.

Related: How Can Pathogens Grow Well Between Which Temperatures?

What are the symptoms of foodborne illness?

Symptoms of food poisoning can vary by the type of bacteria or virus causing the illness. The symptoms may be mild, with just a few hours of nausea and vomiting, or they can progress to more severe cases that require hospitalization. 

Symptoms can include:

  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Fever
  • Abdominal cramps
  • Nausea
  • Muscle aches
  • Mild headache

Symptoms may begin immediately after eating contaminated food or appear several days later. The number of people with symptoms of food poisoning varies, but usually, only 1 percent to 3 percent of consumers exposed to contaminated food will develop symptoms.

How to prevent foodborne illness

Foodborne illness is one of the most common reasons for hospitalization in the United States. More than 5,000 people die each year from foodborne diseases.

Tens of millions more suffer from foodborne illness but don’t need to visit a doctor or hospital.

The good news is that it’s easy to prevent foodborne illness by using safe food-handling practices at home:


Wash hands, utensils, and surfaces often — especially after handling raw meat, seafood or poultry. This includes countertops, cutting boards, and knives. Wash your hands with warm water and soap for at least 20 seconds before and after handling food. Keep raw meat, seafood, and poultry away from other foods while shopping, storing, or preparing them.


Cook food thoroughly to kill harmful bacteria. Use a food thermometer if you don’t know how long to cook it.


Refrigerate leftovers promptly. Place hot foods in shallow containers to cool faster and don’t drip onto other foods. Store foods properly in the refrigerator or freezer; keep foods below cooked fillings such as tuna salad and egg salad.

Preventing Foodborne Illness


If you think that only people with poor hygiene and sanitation habits get sick from food, think again. Anyone can contract food poisoning, and the food itself doesn’t have to look spoiled or have an off smell to make you sick. Many forms of foodborne illness have no visible symptoms at all. That said, the best strategy to avoid food poisoning at home is to practice proper storage and refrigeration techniques—and keep your kitchen clean. That’s a small price to pay for the potential cost of a full-blown case of food poisoning!

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