Foodborne Illness

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Summer is a great time to barbeque and picnic with friends and family. That said, it's important to remember food safety - over 75 million cases of foodborne illness occur each year in the United States. Luckily, most of these cases are mild, with symptoms lasting for only 1-2 days. Some cases are more serious (the CDC estimates that there are 325,000 hospitalizations and 5,000 deaths related to foodborne illnesses annually), and even 1-2 days of foodborne illness is no fun, so know the facts.

Here is a brief refresher on foodborne illness- the different types, causes, and signs/symptoms, in the event your food gets the better of you.

First things first_ definitions. Terms like "foodborne disease" and "food poisoning" is broadly used so what's the distinction? First, think of foodborne illness (interchangeable with foodborne disease) as the umbrella term for most causes of how food can make us sick, excluding food allergies or intolerances -which is the topic of next week's blog! Food can cause illness when it is contaminated. Now just because you ingest a contaminant does not necessarily mean you'll get sick. The source of contamination, how much of the contaminant you ingest, your age and your health are all important factors in determining your foodborne illness fate.

  • Note: Groups at higher risk of foodborne illness include pregnant women, older adults, children, and those with weakened immune systems due to chronic disease or treatments such as chemotherapy.




Food (including beverages) can be contaminated at any point during their journey to our plate, including harvesting, processing, storing, shipping, preparing, or even reheating that causes contamination. Most commonly, cross-contamination is the culprit, which is the transfer of harmful organisms from one surface to another. For example, cutting raw chicken on the same cutting board as the cauliflower for your veggie tray puts you at risk for cross-contaminating the veggie with salmonella from the chicken. This is why food safety- everything from hand washing to proper holding temperatures- is so crucial when preparing foods at home.

Though there are many different causes of foodborne illness, several of the symptoms are similar- nausea, vomiting, diarrhea. Because of this, the most serious complication from foodborne illness is dehydration. It is extremely important to replace fluids and electrolytes lost when these symptoms occur.

For more information on foodborne illness, check out these websites:

And lastly, don't forget the temperature Danger Zone!

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Tanya Zuckerbrot, MS, RD is a nutritionist and founder of She is also the creator of The F-Factor DietaC/, an innovative nutritional program she has used for more than ten years to provide hundreds of her clients with all the tools they need to achieve easy weight loss and maintenance, improved health and well-being. For more information log onto