Food poisoning seems to be the catch-all term for our bodies’ reaction to contaminated food. But there are many different kinds of “food poisoning” ranging from mild to severe. Some of us may not take safe food handling seriously, but the reality is that some foodborne illnesses can cause major health issues that could cause great harm or even death. Here are the most common foodborne illnesses, according to the CDC, and brought to you by Probe It Food Safety.

Norovirus

Considering that the norovirus comes from vomit and feces, it’s unsettling that this germ is the leading foodborne illness, more-so that restaurants are its number one source. 

Symptoms: nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, fever, stomach pain, headache, general aches and pains, dehydration

Method of Transmission: small traces of vomit or feces enter your mouth, usually through contaminated food. If someone with the virus doesn’t wash their hands before preparing food; if your food is grown in contaminated water without being properly washed; or, if surfaces contain trace amounts of fecal matter where food is prepared; drinking water that has not been filtered properly

Duration: Norovirus appears 12 to 48 hours after exposure and lasts from one to three days

How to Avoid Getting It and Spreading It: Wash your hands, wash your hands, wash your hands. We cannot stress this enough. Do it frequently and thoroughly. Make sure your employees understand the importance of this simple but crucial task. Always wash your hands after using the bathroom, before and after preparing food, and before taking or giving your child medicine.

Salmonella

Salmonella leads to almost 400 deaths every year in the United States alone. It can affect anyone, but children are the most vulnerable. Older adults and immunocompromised adults are also at risk.

Symptoms: severe diarrhea (sometimes to the point where hospital intervention is needed), fever, stomach cramps.

Method of Transmission: Eating food that has been contaminated with an infected person’s or animal’s feces; drinking contaminated water. Salmonella is found in raw eggs, wild animals, farm animals, and some reptiles. Humans can also be carriers of a certain type of salmonella, which is called typhoid fever.

Duration: Symptoms can appear from 12 to 72 hours and usually clear up after seven days.

How to Avoid Getting It and Spreading It: Urge your staff to be honest about their health. Anyone who is sick or is experiencing diarrhea should not be allowed in your commercial kitchen. And we can’t stress this enough: wash your hands. Ensure that all your food is cooked to the right temperature (for more information on cooking for food safety, take our Ontario Food Safety Course). Wash all fruits and vegetables before eating. Store all cooked food in the refrigerator two hours after cooking. Only drink pasteurized milk (raw milk is illegal in Canada). Make sure your eggs are thoroughly cooked before eating or serving. And again…wash your hands!

Clostridium Perfringens

Clostridium perfringens (C. perfringens) grows in places with very little oxygen and is commonly found in raw poultry, meat, and inside the human intestine.

Symptoms: Sudden diarrhea and stomach cramps. 

Method of Transmission:  Eating food that was made in large amounts and kept warm for an extended period of time, i.e. cafeteria food. Eating dry or precooked food that contains the bacteria, like gravy. It cannot be transmitted from person to person, therefore ill-prepared food is the only culprit 

Duration: Symptoms appear within 24 hours of eating contaminated food and can last up to 24 hours (in severe cases, one to two weeks)

How to Avoid Getting It and Spreading It: Cook your food to the right temperature, especially your meat and poultry. Using a food thermometer is a better indication of internal temperature than the colour of your meat. Ensure your hot food is kept to at least 60 degrees C (140 degrees F).

Campylobacter 

People are often worried that eating raw chicken will lead to salmonella poisoning, but it’s Campylobacter that you really need to worry about.

Symptoms: diarrhea (usually bloody), fever, stomach cramps, sometimes nausea and vomiting.

Method of Transmission: Preparing food on a contaminated cutting board or eating undercooked chicken; not washing your hands after preparing uncooked chicken and then putting your hands near your mouth; sometimes, Campylobacter is spread through our pet’s feces. Campylobacter cannot be passed on from person to person.

Duration: Symptoms appear within two to five days of exposure to raw poultry and last up to a week. People with compromised immune systems are at risk of Campylobacter spreading into their veins and causing a deadly blood infection.

How to Avoid Getting It and Spreading It: It’s no surprise that washing your hands is the best way to prevent yourself from getting it. To prevent Campylobacter from spreading, keep your foods separated, and store your meat, poultry, and fish in sealable containers on the bottom shelf of the fridge; cook your meats to the right temperature (again, a thermometer is more accurate than checking the colour).

Staphylococcus aureus

Staph infection is spread from person to person, which means that any incident of Staph-related food poisoning is caused by lack of proper hygiene and unsafe food handling.

Symptoms: Stomach pain, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, fever

Method of Transmission:  Eating food that has been prepared by someone carrying the Staph infection, sometimes even if it has been cooked properly.

Duration: Symptoms appear very quickly—within 30 minutes to eight hours after consuming contaminated food. Symptoms typically last for one day.

How to Avoid Getting It and Spreading It:  Never prepare food if you’re sick, are vomiting, or have diarrhea; don’t force staff to work if they are sick; follow proper hand-washing protocol; adhere to safe food storage methods; cook food to its safe minimum internal temperature.

We hope this article has demonstrated the importance of food safety and has perhaps given greater insight as to why it’s mandatory to have your safe food handling certificate in Ontario. Register today for your food safety course to work in the food and beverage industry!