Foodborne illness : frequently asked questions
Published Date:January 10, 2005
Corporate Authors:Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (U.S.)
Description:What is foodborne disease? -- What are the most common foodborne diseases? -- Are the types of foodborne diseases changing? -- What happens in the body after the microbes that produce illness are swallowed? -- How are foodborne diseases diagnosed? -- How are foodborne diseases treated? -- When should I consult my doctor about a diarrheal illness? -- How many cases of foodborne disease are there in the United States? -- How do public health departments track foodborne diseases? -- What are foodborne disease outbreaks and why do they occur? -- Why do public health officials investigate outbreaks? -- How are outbreaks of foodborne disease detected? -- How is a foodborne disease outbreak investigated? -- How does food become contaminated? -- What foods are most associated with foodborne illness? -- What can consumers do to protect themselves from foodborne illness? -- Are some people more likely to contract a foodborne illness? If so, are there special precautions they should take? -- What can consumers do when they eat in restaurants? -- There is only so much the consumer can do. How can food be made safer in the first place? -- What is CDC doing to control and prevent foodborne disease? -- Where can I learn more about food safety and foodborne diseases?
Foodborne disease is caused by consuming contaminated foods or beverages. Many different disease- causing microbes, or pathogens, can contaminate foods, so there are many different foodborne infections. In addition, poisonous chemicals, or other harmful substances can cause foodborne diseases if they are present in food.
More than 250 different foodborne diseases have been described. Most of these diseases are infections, caused by a variety of bacteria, viruses, and parasites that can be foodborne. Other diseases are poisonings, caused by harmful toxins or chemicals that have contaminated the food, for example, poisonous mushrooms. These different diseases have many different symptoms, so there is no one "syndrome" that is foodborne illness. However, the microbe or toxin enters the body through the gastrointestinal tract, and often causes the first symptoms there, so nausea, vomiting, abdominal cramps and diarrhea are common symptoms in many foodborne diseases.
Many microbes can spread in more than one way, so we cannot always know that a disease is foodborne. The distinction matters, because public health authorities need to know how a particular disease is spreading to take the appropriate steps to stop it. For example, Escherichia coli O157:H7 infections can spread through contaminated food, contaminated drinking water, contaminated swimming water, and from toddler to toddler at a day care center. Depending on which means of spread caused a case, the measures to stop other cases from occurring could range from removing contaminated food from stores, chlorinating a swimming pool, or closing a child day care center.
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