The top five germs that cause illnesses from food eaten in the United States are norovirus, Salmonella, Clostridium perfringens, Campylobacter and Staphylococcus aureus, aka staph.

Some other germs don’t cause as many illnesses, but when they do, the diseases are more likely to lead to hospitalization. Those germs include E coli, Clostridium botulinum (which causes botulism), Listeria, Vibrio and Shiga toxin-producing Escherichia coli (STEC) often called E. coli O157.

What causes food poisoning?

Many different disease-causing germs can contaminate foods and there are many foodborne infections.

The federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that each year 48 million people in the United States get sick from a foodborne illness. Of those, 128,000 require hospitalization and 3,000 die.

Researchers have identified more than 250 foodborne diseases. Most of them result in infections, caused by a variety of bacteria, viruses and parasites. Harmful toxins and chemicals also can contaminate foods and cause foodborne illness.

Do I have food poisoning?
Common symptoms of foodborne diseases are nausea, vomiting, stomach cramps and diarrhea. However, symptoms vary among the different types of foodborne illnesses and among different individuals.

Symptoms can sometimes be severe, and some foodborne illnesses can even be life-threatening. Although anyone can get a foodborne illness, some people are more likely to develop one with serious implications. Those groups include:

  • Young children;
  • Older adults;
  • Pregnant women; and
  • People with immune systems weakened from medical conditions, such as diabetes, liver disease, kidney disease, organ transplants, HIV/AIDS, or from receiving chemotherapy or radiation treatment.

Most people with a foodborne illness get better without medical treatment, but people with severe symptoms should see their doctor.

Anyone can get sick from eating contaminated food. Practice the four simple food safety steps – clean, separate, cook, and chill – to lower your chance of food poisoning and to protect yourself and your loved ones.

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