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Common Foodborne Illnesses


Common Foodborne Illnesses

Note: Times of onset and duration of symptoms may vary depending on the resource you use.

The following are a list of the seven most common bacterial foodborne illnesses in the United States. 

Most frequently associated with poultry, it is also found in poultry salads, meat, meat products, milk, shell eggs, egg custards, and protein foods. Illness may set in 6–48 hours after ingestion and last for 4–7 days. Symptoms include nausea, abdominal pain, headache, vomiting, fever, and diarrhea.

To prevent transmission:

  • Avoid cross-contamination
  • Thoroughly cook poultry to 165° F
  • Cool cooked meats properly
  • Avoid fecal contamination from food handlers through proper hand washing

This foodborne illness is most frequently associated with potato, tuna, shrimp, turkey, and macaroni salads, lettuce, mixed foods, milk, and milk products. It originates from human feces and flies. Symptoms occur 24–48 hours after ingestion and may last indefinitely, depending on treatment. Symptoms include abdominal pain, diarrhea, fever, chills, dehydration, and vomiting. 

To prevent transmission:

  • Avoid fecal contamination from food handlers by practicing good personal hygiene
  • Use sanitary food and water sources
  • Control flies
  • Rapidly cool foods

From unpasteurized milk, cheese, vegetables, poultry, meats, seafood, and prepared, chilled, ready-to-eat foods, it occurs in humans, domestic and wild animals, birds, soil, water, and mud. Onset of symptoms begins 9–48 hours for gastrointestinal symptoms and 2–6 weeks for invasive disease. This pathogen has a high incidence of fatality in the immunocompromised. Symptoms include nausea, vomiting, headache, fever, chills, backache, and meningitis. 

To prevent transmission:

  • Consume only pasteurized milk and dairy products
  • Cook foods to proper temperature
  • Avoid cross-contamination
  • Clean and sanitize surfaces

Staphylococcus aureus
Carried by the skin, nose, throat, and open sores of humans and animals, this pathogen is most often found in reheated foods, ham and other meats, dairy products, custards, egg and potato salads, cream-filled pastries, and protein foods. Symptoms arise 1–6 hours after ingestion and last for 1–2 days. Staphylococcus aureus may cause nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, and dehydration.

To prevent transmission:

  • Insist on proper use of hand washing and gloves by food handlers
  • Exclude sick food handlers from food preparation and serving
  • Practice good personal hygiene and sanitary habits
  • Cool and refrigerate foods properly

Clostridium perfringens
Found in cooked poultry and improperly cooked meats, or meats that are held at an unsafe temperature, this foodborne illness is found in the human intestinal tract, animals, and the soil. Onset of symptoms generally occurs 8–22 hours after exposure, and acute symptoms last for 24 hours with lingering symptoms for 1–2 weeks. The illness from Clostridium perfringens includes abdominal pain and diarrhea. 

To prevent transmission:

  • Practice careful time and temperature control in cooling and reheating cooked meat dishes and products

Bacillus cereus
Found in soil and cereal crops, Bacillus cereus most often is introduced into the human body through rice and rice dishes, custards, seasonings, dry-food mixes, spices, puddings, cereal products, sauces, vegetable dishes, and meat loaf. After ingestion, onset may become acute in 10–16 hours. Symptoms include nausea and vomiting, diarrhea, and abdominal cramps.

To prevent transmission:

  • Follow proper time and temperature control
  • Observe quick chilling with proper reheating

Clostridium botulinum
Associated with canned goods, this pathogen is most commonly found in improperly processed canned goods of low-acid foods, garlic-in-oil products, grilled onions, stews, and meat and poultry loaves. Onset generally occurs within 12–72 hours, and symptoms may last from several days to 1 year. Illness includes vertigo, visual disturbances, inability to swallow, and respiratory paralysis. 

To avoid exposure:

  • Do not use home-canned products
  • Use careful time and temperature control for ready-to-eat/sous vide items, as well as all large or bulky foods
  • Purchase garlic-in-oil in small batches and use immediately
  • Rapidly cool leftovers


References and recommended readings
National Restaurant Association. ServeSafe Essentials. 5th ed. Chicago IL, National Restaurant Association; 2008.

US Food and Drug Administration. Foodborne illness-causing organisms in the US: what you need to know. Available at:
Accessed March 15, 2012.


Review Date 3/12


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