Foodborne Diseases and Illnesses

Foodborne diseases are illnesses caused by consuming contaminated foods or beverages.

Infectious diseases that spread through food or beverages are a common. Sometimes they can be life threatening.

There are more than 250 different foodborne diseases. They can be caused by bacteria, viruses, or parasites.

Additionally, natural and manufactured chemicals in food products can also make people sick.

There is no one symptom that can give a conclusive proof of foodborne illness. People infected with foodborne germs may have no symptoms.

For those who develop symptoms, these may range from mild intestinal discomfort to severe dehydration and bloody diarrhoea. Generally, nausea, vomiting, abdominal cramps and diarrhoea are common symptoms of foodborne illnesses.

The most common foodborne diseases are those caused by the bacteria Campylobacter, Salmonella, and E. coli, and by a group of viruses called calicivirus, also known as the Norwalk and Norwalk-like viruses.

Some foodborne diseases are caused by direct infection. Others are caused by poisons (toxins) from the disease-causing germs (microbes) or bodily reactions to the germs.

Staphylococcus aureus can grow in some foods and produce a toxin that causes intense vomiting upon ingestion.

Botulism occurs when the bacterium Clostridium botulinum grows and produces a powerful paralytic toxin in foods. These toxins can produce foodborne illness even if the microbes that produced them are no longer there.

Other toxins and poisonous chemicals can cause foodborne illness. People can become unwell if a pesticide is accidentally added to food.

In addition, naturally poisonous substances are used to prepare a meal by mistake. People often become ill after mistaking poisonous mushrooms for safe variety, or after eating poisonous reef fishes.

Preventing Foodborne Diseases & Illnesses

Many food borne diseases are easy to avoid if good hygiene is practised.

Some ways you can get protection from being infected by most foodborne germs include:

  • Wash hands thoroughly before preparing food.

  • Wash hands, utensils, and kitchen surfaces with hot soapy water after they touch raw meat and poultry.

  • Cook beef and beef products such as hamburger thoroughly.

  • Cook poultry and eggs thoroughly.

  • Eat cooked food promptly.

  • Refrigerate leftover food within 2 hours after cooking.

  • Wash fruits and vegetables thoroughly, particularly those that will be eaten raw.

  • Drink only pasteurised milk and juices.

  • Drink treated water.

  • Wash hands thoroughly after using the bathroom, changing diapers and after contact with animals.

    For information on specific foodborne diseases, their prevention and treatment, click on the links below.

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