Food Poisoning - The Basics

Reviewed by Eleese Cunningham, RDN
food poisoning collage


Food Poisoning – A Definition

Food poisoning (also known as foodborne illness or foodborne disease) is an illness caused by bacteria or other pathogens in food. Food poisoning causes an estimated 48 million illnesses (1 out of 6 Americans), 128,000 hospitalizations and 3,000 deaths each year in the United States, according to a 2011 study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Those at Risk for Food Poisoning

Everyone has some risk of contracting food poisoning, but some people are more vulnerable and can be at far greater risk of developing serious illness with long-term effects. Those high risk groups account for nearly 25% of the population and include older adults, infants and young children, pregnant women and people with weakened immune systems and chronic illness such as diabetes, kidney disease, HIV/AIDS and some cancer patients.

The Causes of Food Poisoning

Eight known pathogens account for the vast majority of food poisoning outbreaks: Salmonella, Listeria, Clostridium perfringens, Campylobacter, Staphylococcus aureus, E. coli, Toxoplasma gondii and Norovirus.

Food Poisoning Symptoms

The symptoms and severity of food poisoning vary, but common symptoms include upset stomach, abdominal cramps, nausea and vomiting, diarrhea, fever and dehydration.

How to Reduce the Risk of Food Poisoning

You can significantly reduce your risk of food poisoning by properly handling food and following four easy steps:

  • Wash
  • Separate
  • Cook
  • Refrigerate

Find an Expert

Need serious help making a plan? The nutrition experts in our professional membership are ready to help you create the change to improve your life.

Find an Expert