Food Poisoning & Contamination: Information for Families (2023)

​​​Each year, roughly 48 million people in the United States get food poisoning (also called foodborne illness). It happens when germs such as viruses, bacteria and parasites, or toxins (poisons) produced by them, get into foods we eat.

Foods can become contaminated with harmful microbes before you buy them, or at home if they aren't handled or cooked properly. As a result, food poisoning can affect individual families, or may be part of larger outbreaks. Here's what you should know.

Symptoms of food poisoning

The symptoms of food poisoning often seem like those from other intestinal illnesses: abdominal cramps, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, and fever. But if your child and other people who have eaten the same food all have the same symptoms, the problem is more likely food poisoning.

Some of the germs and other sources of food poisoning include:


Salmonella bacteria (there are many types) are a major cause of food poisoning in the United States. The most commonly contaminated foods are raw meat (including chicken), raw or undercooked eggs, and unpasteurized milk. Fortunately, Salmonella are killed when food is cooked thoroughly. Symptoms caused by Salmonella infection usually start between six to 48 hours after eating, and may last for 7days.

Infant formula alert:In February 2022, the U.S. Food & Drug Administration issued an alert about powdered infant formula​ that may be contaminated with Cronobacter and Salmonella bacteria.

Contact your pediatrician and getimmediate medical care if your baby hassymptomsofCronobacter or Salmonella infection. These mayinclude poor feeding, irritability, temperature​ changes, jaundice​, grunting breaths, abnormal movements, lethargy, rash or blood in the urine or stool.

To check if your powdered formula is part of the recall, enter the product lot code on the bottom of your package on the company'swebsite​.

For more information, see Ask the Pediatrician: What should I know about the infant formula recall?
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E. coli

Escherichia coli (or E. coli) is a group of bacteria that normally live in the intestines of children and adults. A few strains of these bacteria can cause food-related illnesses. Undercooked ground beef is a common source of E. coli, although raw produce and contaminated water have caused some outbreaks.

Symptoms of an E. coli infection typically include diarrhea (which can range from mild to severe), abdominal pain, and in some cases nausea and vomiting. Some E. coli outbreaks have been severe and have even caused deaths in rare instances. The best treatment for an E. coli–related illness is to get plenty of rest and fluids. But if symptoms are more severe, talk with your pediatrician.

Staphylococcus aureus (Staph)
Staphylococcus aureus contamination is a leading cause of food poisoning. These bacteria ordinarily cause skin infections, such as pimples or boils. They can be transferred when foods when handled by someone who is infected. When food is not kept hot enough, staph bacteria multiply and produce a toxin that ordinary cooking will not destroy. The symptoms begin one to six hours after eating the contaminated food, and usually lasts about a day.

Clostridium perfringens

Clostridium perfringens (C. perfringens) is a type of bacteria often found in soil, sewage, and the intestines of humans and animals. It usually is transferred by someone handling food to the food itself, where it multiplies and produces its toxin. C. perfringens often is found in school cafeterias. This is because it thrives in food that is served in large amounts and left out for long periods at room temperature or on a steam table. Foods most often involved are cooked beef, poultry, gravy, fish, casseroles, stews, and bean burritos. The symptoms of this type of poisoning start six to 24 hours after eating, and can last from one to several days.


Shigella infections, or shigellosis, are intestinal infections caused by one of many types of shigella bacteria. These bacteria can be transmitted through contaminated food and drinking water, as well as through poor hygiene in places such as child care centers. The germ invades the lining of the intestine, and can lead to symptoms such as diarrhea, fever, and cramps. Shigellosis and its symptoms usually start one to three days after exposure, and get better two to three days after the start of symptoms. In the meantime, your child should consume extra fluids. Your pediatrician may also recommend a rehydrating solution. In severe cases, your doctor may prescribe antibiotics, which can shorten the length and intensity of the infection.

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Campylobacter is a type of bacteria that can often found in raw or undercooked chicken, unpasteurized milk or contaminated water. Children with Campylobacter typically have symptoms such as watery (and sometimes bloody) diarrhea, cramps, and fever, about two to five days after consuming contaminated food. To diagnose this infection, your doctor will need a stool sample for laboratory testing. Campylobacter infection usually runs its course without formal treatment, other than making sure that your child drinks plenty of fluids to replace those lost from diarrhea. When symptoms are severe, however, your pediatrician may prescribe antibiotics. In most cases, your child will be back to normal in about two to five days.


This is the rare but serious food poisoning caused by Clostridium botulinum. These bacteria normally can be found in soil and water. However, they don't often cause illness because they need very special conditions in order to multiply and produce poison. Clostridium botulinum grows best without oxygen and in certain chemical conditions. This is why improperly canned food is most often contaminated, especially low-acid vegetables such as green beans, corn, beets and peas.

Honey also can be contaminated with Clostridium botulinum and cause severe illness, particularly in children under one year of age. That is why honey should never be given to an infant before their first birthday.

Botulism attacks the nervous system and causes double vision, droopy eyelids, decreased muscle tone, and difficulty in swallowing and breathing. It also can cause vomiting, diarrhea, and abdominal pain. The symptoms usually develop within 12 to 48 hours and can last weeks to months. In infants, the incubation period may be longer. Without treatment, botulism can be fatal. Even with treatment, it can cause nerve damage.


In very uncommon situations, watery diarrhea, low-grade fever, and abdominal pain may be caused by an infection known as cryptosporidium. This infection is of special concern in children who do not have a normal immune system.

Other sources of food poisoning

Food poisoning may also be caused by poisonous mushrooms, contaminated fish products, and foods with special seasonings. Young children do not care for most of these foods and so will eat very little of them. However, it still is very important to be aware of the risk. If your child has unusual gastrointestinal symptoms, and there is any chance she might have eaten contaminated or poisonous foods, call your pediatrician.

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Treatment for food poisoning

Most children with food-borne illnesses will get better on their own after a brief break from eating and drinking. Infants can tolerate three to four hours without food or liquids; older children, six to eight. If your child is still vomiting or her diarrhea has not decreased significantly during this time, be sure to call your pediatrician. Also notify the doctor if your child:

Treatment depends on your child's condition and the type of food poisoning. Tell the doctor the symptoms your child is having, what foods she has eaten recently, and where they got them. If your child is dehydrated, fluid replacement is key. Sometimes antibiotics are helpful, but only if the specific bacteria are known. Antihistamines help if the illness is from an allergic reaction to a food, toxin, or seasoning. If your child has botulism, they will need hospitalization and intensive care.


Fortunately, food contamination and food poisoning can be prevented with some basic guidelines. (See "Food-Borne Illness Prevention.") Talk with your pediatrician if you have any concerns about food poisoning, what to do if you notice symptoms, and ways to prevent food-borne illness.

More information

The information contained on this Web site should not be used as a substitute for the medical care and advice of your pediatrician. There may be variations in treatment that your pediatrician may recommend based on individual facts and circumstances.

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What is food poisoning question and answer? ›

Food poisoning (also known as food-borne illness) occurs when you eat or drink something that contains harmful germs. Q. Consuming adulterated food causes food poisoning.

What are the 4 types of food contamination? ›

Food manufacturers must do everything possible to avoid contamination and produce safe products, knowing the dramatic consequences if they don't. There are four types of food contamination: physical, biological, chemical and allergenic.

What are 10 ways to prevent food contamination? ›

10 ways to prevent food poisoning
  1. Wash your hands. ...
  2. Wash worktops. ...
  3. Wash dishcloths. ...
  4. Use separate chopping boards. ...
  5. Keep raw meat separate. ...
  6. Store raw meat on the bottom shelf. ...
  7. Cook food thoroughly. ...
  8. Keep your fridge below 5C.

What are 5 ways to prevent food poisoning? ›

8 Tips To Help Prevent Food Poisoning
  1. Wash Your Hands Often. ...
  2. Clean Fruits And Vegetables. ...
  3. Don't Wash Raw Meat. ...
  4. Clean All Surfaces. ...
  5. Keep It Cool. ...
  6. Avoid The “Danger Zone” ...
  7. Separate, So You Don't Cross-Contaminate. ...
  8. Cook To The Right Temperature.

What causes food poisoning? ›

Food poisoning is an illness caused by eating contaminated food. It's not usually serious and most people get better within a few days without treatment. In most cases of food poisoning, the food is contaminated by bacteria, such as salmonella or Escherichia coli (E. coli), or a virus, such as the norovirus.

What are the 3 main causes of food poisoning? ›

What causes food poisoning?
  • fresh produce.
  • raw or undercooked meat, poultry, and eggs.
  • dairy products and fruit juices that have not been pasteurized—heated to kill harmful microbes.
  • fish and shellfish.

What are 5 ways food can be contaminated? ›

Avoid these 5 things: Most common ways food is contaminated in a restaurant
  • Temperature abuse. ...
  • Cross-contamination. ...
  • Unsafe ingredients. ...
  • Improper storage conditions. ...
  • Shipping damage.
20 Jul 2017

What is the most common contamination? ›

Bacterial contamination is thought to be the most common cause of food poisoning worldwide, and the best way to protect against it occurring is by maintaining the best food safety practices. Physical contamination refers to food that has been contaminated by a foreign object at some stage of the production process.

What are the 3 types of contamination you must prevent? ›

While there are many food safety hazards that can cause food contamination, most fall into one of three categories: biological, physical or chemical contamination.

How do you control contamination? ›

To prevent this: Wash hands with soap and hot water before and after handling food, and after using the bathroom, changing diapers; or handling pets. Use hot, soapy water and paper towels or clean cloths to wipe up kitchen surfaces or spills. Wash cloths often in the hot cycle of your washing machine.

What is the best solution for food safety? ›

The four most effective ways of keeping food clean and safe include (1) cleaning the food preparation area, (2) separating raw and processed foods, (3) properly cooking foods to the correct internal temperature, and (4) chilling foods that are meant to be consumed at a later time.

What are effects of food contamination? ›

Salmonella, Campylobacter and enterohaemorrhagic Escherichia coli are some of the most common foodborne pathogens that affect millions of people annually, sometimes with severe and fatal outcomes. Symptoms can be fever, headache, nausea, vomiting, abdominal pain and diarrhoea.

What are the 4 steps to preventing food poisoning? ›

Following four simple steps at home—Clean, Separate, Cook, and Chill—can help protect you and your loved ones from food poisoning.

What are the 4 C's to help prevent food poisoning? ›

Did we wash our hands long enough? To stay safe while cooking dinner, refer to the four C's of food safety: clean, contain, cook and chill.

How does food poisoning spread? ›

There are numerous ways you can contract the virus. This can happen by eating food that someone with the virus has prepared, sharing food or drinks, touching something that has the virus or by being in direct contact with the sick person.

What is contamination of food? ›

Food contamination is generally defined as foods that are spoiled or tainted because they either contain microorganisms, such as bacteria or parasites, or toxic substances that make them unfit for consumption.

When can food poisoning start? ›

Symptoms begin 6 to 24 hours after exposure: Diarrhea, stomach cramps. Usually begins suddenly and lasts for less than 24 hours. Vomiting and fever are not common.

What is the prevention of food poisoning? ›

Wash your hands and work surfaces before, during, and after preparing food. Germs can survive in many places around your kitchen, including your hands, utensils, cutting boards, and countertops.

What is the biggest source of food poisoning? ›

Raw foods of animal origin are the most likely to be contaminated, specifically raw or undercooked meat and poultry, raw or lightly cooked eggs, unpasteurized (raw) milk, and raw shellfish. Fruits and vegetables also may get contaminated.

What are two common symptoms of food poisoning? ›

The most common symptoms of food poisoning include: Diarrhea. Nausea and vomiting.

What are the main causes of contamination? ›

The reasons for contamination can include: poor waste management. poor construction, industrial or agricultural practices. illegal dumping or unsafe storage of harmful products.

What is the best example of contamination? ›

Examples of Physical Contamination

Common examples of physical contaminants include hair, bandages, fingernails, jewelry, broken glass, metal, paint flakes, bone, the body parts of pests, or pest droppings.

What are the four main causes of food contamination? ›

There are four main types of contamination: chemical, microbial, physical, and allergenic. All food is at risk of contamination from these four types. This is why food handlers have a legal responsibility to ensure that the food they prepare is free from these contaminants and safe for the consumer.

What are 3 ways food can be contaminated? ›

There are three ways that food can be contaminated:
  • biological hazards (microorganisms) including bacteria, fungi, yeasts, mould and viruses.
  • chemical hazards. including cleaning chemicals or foods with naturally occurring toxins, such as green potatoes.
  • physical hazards.

What is food safety? ›

What is Food Safety? Food safety refers to routines in the preparation, handling and storage of food meant to prevent foodborne illness and injury. From farm to factory to fork, food products may encounter any number of health hazards during their journey through the supply chain.

What are the 6 most common sources of contamination? ›

The most common objects to contaminate food include glass, hair, metal, jewellery, dirt, and fingernails.
Some ways of avoiding it include:
  • Fingernails should be clean, short and unpolished, with no long or false nails.
  • Staff should not wear jewellery.
28 Sept 2020

What are the main types of food contamination hazards? ›

The 3 Types of Hazards
  • Biological hazards include bacteria, parasites, fungi and viruses. ...
  • Chemical hazards are harmful substances such as pesticides or machine oils. ...
  • Physical hazards are objects which contaminate your foods such as pieces of glass or metal, toothpicks, jewelry or hair.

What is the importance of contamination control? ›

The aim of all contamination control activities is to permanently ensure a sufficient level of cleanliness in controlled environments. This is accomplished by maintaining, reducing, or eradicating viable and non-viable contamination for either sanitary purposes or in order to maintain an efficient rate of production.

What is contamination and examples? ›

The presence of unwanted materials such as dust and particles during the manufacturing and transportation time is called contamination. The term contaminants includes any unwanted matter that is found in the product. These contaminants affect the quality of the product or the process.

What are some effective means to prevent contamination? ›

Here we discuss ten ways to control or minimize contamination in a molecular laboratory.
  • Laboratory Construction. ...
  • Environmental Control. ...
  • Unidirectional Workflow. ...
  • Dedicated Consumables and Equipment. ...
  • Use of Aerosol-Resistant Pipettes. ...
  • Pipetting Technique. ...
  • Frequently Changing Gloves. ...
  • Aseptic Cleaning Technique.
14 Oct 2014

How can we prevent food security problems? ›

Giving more people benefits through nutrition assistance programs, increasing benefit amounts, and addressing unemployment may help reduce food insecurity and hunger.

Why is food safety important? ›

Food safety is important as it helps to protect consumer from the risk of food borne illnesses. It also helps to prevent consumers from risks of health –related conditions such as allergy and even death.

What are the 7 important things to keep food safe? ›

7 Food Safety Tips to Keep in Mind
  • Always wash up first. ...
  • Watch the high-risk foods. ...
  • Sanitize your work surfaces. ...
  • Separate food items. ...
  • Get the heat right. ...
  • Keep warm food warm and cold food cold. ...
  • Use your fridge wisely.
21 Dec 2020

What are the risk factors in food contamination? ›

Inadequate cooking. Improper hot/cold holding temperatures. Contaminated equipment. Poor personal hygiene.

What are two ways to prevent poisoning? ›

Keep all household cleaners and potentially poisonous substances in locked cabinets or out of the reach of children. Keep products in their original containers. Do not use food containers (such as cups or bottles) to store household cleaners and other chemicals or products.

What is the 2 hour rule for food? ›

Remember the 2-Hour Rule: Discard any perishables left out at room temperature for more than 2 hours, unless you're keeping it hot or cold. If the buffet is held in a place where the temperature is above 90 °F, the safe holding time is reduced to 1 hour.

What are the 5 guidelines for serving food? ›

The core messages of the Five Keys to Safer Food are: (1) keep clean; (2) separate raw and cooked; (3) cook thoroughly; (4) keep food at safe temperatures; and (5) use safe water and raw materials.

What should be your first action when treating food poisoning? ›

If you think someone has food poisoning, advise them to lie down and rest. If they're vomiting, give them small sips of water to drink as this will help prevent dehydration. If they have accompanying diarrhoea or diarrhoea only, it is even more important to try to replace lost fluids and salts.

What is poisoning Short answer? ›

Poisoning is injury or death due to swallowing, inhaling, touching or injecting various drugs, chemicals, venoms or gases. Many substances — such as drugs and carbon monoxide — are poisonous only in higher concentrations or dosages.

What is food poisoning Class 8 in short? ›

Food poisoning, also called foodborne illness, is an infection or irritation of your digestive tract that spreads through food or drinks. Viruses, bacteria, and parasites cause most food poisoning. Harmful chemicals may also cause food poisoning.

What is the food poisoning Class 8? ›

Food poisoning is a food-borne sickness that strikes quickly after you eat or drink anything contaminated. Food can sometimes be damaged by microbes that produce poisonous compounds. The meal becomes poisonous due to toxic chemicals. Nausea, vomiting, stomach cramps, and diarrhoea are common food poisoning symptoms.

What is food poisoning PDF? ›

What Is Food Poisoning? Food poisoning is an illness that occurs after eating or drinking anything that is contaminated. Usually, it is bacteria (germs) on the food that cause illness but sometimes, it can be chemicals, viruses, or parasites.

What is the most common cause of poisoning? ›

Ethanol intoxication is the commonest type of acute poisoning and suicide by medical drug overdose is the commonest type of suicide by poisoning. Death from acute poisoning is most commonly the result of either smoke inhalation or illegal drug use.

What are the 4 elements of poisoning? ›

Poisoning involves four elements: the poison, the poisoned organism, the injury to the cells, and the symptoms and signs or death. These four elements represent the cause, subject, effect, and consequence of poisoning.

What are the 4 ways of poison? ›

Poisons can be swallowed, inhaled, absorbed or injected.

What is food poisoning called? ›

Food poisoning, also called foodborne illness, is illness caused by eating contaminated food. Infectious organisms — including bacteria, viruses and parasites — or their toxins are the most common causes of food poisoning.

What are the causes and effects of food poisoning? ›

Foodborne illness, more commonly referred to as food poisoning, is the result of eating contaminated, spoiled, or toxic food. The most common symptoms of food poisoning include nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea. Although it's quite uncomfortable, food poisoning isn't unusual.

What are the major types of poisoning? ›

Common poisons include:
  • Alcohol.
  • Berries and Seeds.
  • Carbon Monoxide.
  • Food Poisoning.
  • Hazardous Chemicals.
  • Herbal Supplements.
  • Household Products.
  • Inhalants.

How fast does food poisoning happen? ›

The time it takes food poisoning symptoms to start can vary. Illness often starts in about 1 to 3 days. But symptoms can start any time from 30 minutes to 3 weeks after eating contaminated food. The length of time depends on the type of bacteria or virus causing the illness.

What are the 4 main hazards of food poisoning? ›

There are four types of hazards that you need to consider:
  • Microbiological hazards. Microbiological hazards include bacteria, yeasts, moulds and viruses.
  • Chemical hazards. ...
  • Physical hazards. ...
  • Allergens.
19 Oct 2016

What is the management of food poisoning? ›

Stop eating and drinking for a few hours. Try sucking on ice chips or taking small sips of water. You might also try drinking clear soda, clear broth or noncaffeinated sports drinks. You might also try oral rehydration solutions if you have severe dehydration symptoms or diarrhea.

What is food contamination in simple words? ›

Food contamination refers to food that has been corrupted with another substance – either physical, biological or chemical.


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