Skip to content
Font Size

Food-Related Illness: Playing It Safe

WebMD Feature

Britt and Mike joined two friends at a favorite restaurant for dinner and shared a large pizza. While they had a great time, later that night was a different story. All four awoke with severe nausea, stomach cramps and vomiting -- enough to send them to the emergency room. After running some tests, the ER doctor said they had a food-related illness. The culprit was a bacterium in the pizza.

Each year in the United States, some 76 million people experience food-related illnesses. New outbreaks are reported daily. They come from sources such as E. coli in undercooked hamburger or bacteria-laden lettuce; salmonella from raw chicken, eggs, and green onions; or listeria bacteria from soft cheeses and lunch meats. Food-related illness is a serious problem. But you can protect yourself if you know the facts.

Recommended Related to

Biological and Chemical Weapons

Browse this alphabetical list of the most commonly known biological and chemical agents. Click on each one to get more information. And see category definitions below. Agent Type Category* Anthrax Bio ...

Read the Biological and Chemical Weapons article > >

What Causes Food-Related Illness?

While you might encounter thousands of types of bacteria in your everyday environment, most cause you no harm. But when harmful bacteria, such as salmonella, campylobacter, listeria and E. coli, enter our food or water supply, they cause problems ranging from flu-like symptoms to serious illness -- even death.

Three common types of food-related bacteria are:

  • Salmonella species. This is the bacterium that can cause illness when you eat raw or undercooked eggs (even in chocolate chip cookie dough!). Salmonella species are the No. 1 cause of food-related illness in the United States. They are responsible for more deaths than any other food-borne pathogen. Salmonella infection can lead to fever, abdominal cramps, and diarrhea within 12 hours to three days after eating the contaminated food.
  • Campylobacter. This is the most common cause of diarrhea and abdominal cramps from food-related illness. While most raw poultry meat has campylobacter on it, vegetables and fruits can also become contaminated with juices that drip from raw chicken. Unpasteurized milk or cheese or contaminated water may also cause this infection.
  • Escherichia coli 0157:H7 (E. coli). This is a common cause of dehydrating diarrhea worldwide. While most strains of E. coli live in the intestines of healthy humans and animals, the 0157:H7 strain can be deadly, leading to bloody diarrhea and even kidney failure. Other, less dangerous, E. coli are responsible for most cases of "travelers' diarrhea."
  • Staph aureus. This organism contaminates many different kinds of food. It causes food poisoning with vomiting followed by diarrhea in many cases. It is often associated with restaurants or picnics where food is not properly refrigerated or stays out of the refrigerator too long.
1 | 2 | 3

Hot Topics

WebMD Video: Now Playing

Click here to wach video: Dirty Truth About Hand Washing

Which sex is the worst about washing up? Why is it so important? We’ve got the dirty truth on how and when to wash your hands.

Click here to watch video: Dirty Truth About Hand Washing

Popular Slideshows & Tools on WebMD

disciplining a boy
Types, symptoms, causes.
Remember your finger
Are You Getting More Forgetful?
fruit drinks
Eat these to think better.
No gym workout
Moves to help control blood sugar.
acupuncture needle on shoulder
10 tips to look and feel good.
Close up of eye
12 reasons you're distracted.
birth control pills
Which kind is right for you?
embarrassed woman
Do you feel guilty after eating?
Epinephrine Injection using Auto-Injector Syringe
Life-threatening triggers.
woman biting a big ice cube
Habits that wreck your teeth.
pacemaker next to xray
Treatment options.
caregiver with parent
10 tips for daily life.

Pollen counts, treatment tips, and more.

It's nothing to sneeze at.

Loading ...

Sending your email...

This feature is temporarily unavailable. Please try again later.


Now check your email account on your mobile phone to download your new app.

Women's Health Newsletter

Find out what women really need.