6 Gross Causes of Food Borne Illness


Updated May 06, 2015.

Written or reviewed by a board-certified physician. See About.com’sMedical Review Board.

It seems every few months we hear of another product that has been recalled due to contamination with one thing or another. Most contaminants cause upset stomach and symptoms similar to those of a stomach bug. But some people end up with serious complications or even die from these outbreaks.

Learn more about common contaminants that often lead to widespread food recalls.

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E. coli magnified x7000. PASIEKA/Science Photo Library/Getty Images

1.  E. Coli – Escherichia Coli

E. coli is one of the most well known causes of food borne illness and product recalls in the US. It actually isn’t even in the top 5 pathogens that cause food borne illness though.   More »

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Salmonella bacterium. Science Picture Company/Getty Images

2.  Salmonella

Salmonella is the leading cause of hospitalization and deaths from food borne illness in the United States. It is also the second most common pathogen leading to illness from food. It doesn’t just occur in undercooked chicken either. Read up on this dangerous bacteria so you know how to protect yourself.  More »

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Listeria monocytogenes. Science Picture Company/Getty Images

3.  Listeria

Listeria is commonly found in raw milk and processed deli meats or hot dogs. Lately it has been found even in commercially prepared items such asBlue Bell Ice Cream – which prompted a complete recall of all products by the company in April 2015. Although listeriosis is uncommon in healthy people, it poses serious risks to pregnant women, older adults, infants and people with compromised immune systems. More »

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Norovirus – or Norwalk virus. Science Picture Company/Getty Images

4.  Norovirus

Norovirus is a highly contagious pathogen that can affect many people in a short amount of time. It is the leading cause of food borne illness in the United States. Once known as the “cruise ship virus” because of the frequency of outbreaks on cruise ships – this virus is now one of the most common causes of “stomach flu”. It spreads quickly and is especially contagious in areas where many people are in close quarters – such as on cruise ships or in college dorms.  More »

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Campylobacter jejuni. BSIP/Universal Images Group/Getty Images

5.  Campylobacter

Campylobacter is a common cause of food borne illness but it typically occurs in isolated incidents and does not prompt large recalls. Symptoms include vomiting, diarrhea (may be bloody), cramping, abdominal pain and fever. These symptoms usually appear 2 to 5 days after exposure to the bacteria. It is more common during the summer and a vast majority of people that get it recover without treatment. It is most serious for people with compromised immune systems.

Most cases of campylobacter occur from eating raw or undercooked poultry. It’s often spread by cutting raw meat on a cutting board and then reusing the same cutting board for produce. According to the CDC, there can be enough campylobacter in just one drop of raw poultry juice to infect a person. More »

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Toxoplasma gondii. BSIP/Universal Images Group/Getty Images

6.  Toxoplasma Gondii

It is estimated that 60 million of us (in the United States alone) are currently infected with the Toxoplasma parasite. Luckily, most of us will never know it because it doesn’t make us sick. When your immune system is functioning properly it keeps the parasite from making you sick. Unfortunately, people with compromised immune systems and pregnant women are at higher risk for illness from this bug.

The toxoplasma parasite can be found on raw or undercooked meats such as pork, venison or lamb as well as in contaminated water. A common source of infection is cat feces. If you have ever been pregnant and warned not to change or touch cat litter – toxoplasmosis is why.

Those who do get sick with toxoplasmosis may experience “flu-like” symptoms with swollen glands and muscle aches that can last for over a month.  More »

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