Common Foodborne Pathogens
Even though the United States has one of the safest food supplies in the world, there are still millions of cases of foodborne illness each year. Here are common foodborne pathogens (disease-causing microorganisms) with research-based information that includes:
- Cause of illness
- Incubation period
- Possible contaminants
- Steps for prevention
- Cause of illness: large molecular weight protein (diarrheal type) or highly heat-stable toxin (emetic type)
- Incubation period: 30 minutes to 15 hours
- Symptoms: diarrhea , abdominal cramps, nausea, and vomiting (emetic type)
- Possible contaminants: meats, milk, vegetables, fish, rice, potatoes, pasta, and cheese
- Steps for prevention: pay careful attention to food preparation and cooking guidelines.
- Cause of Illness: Infection, even with low numbers
Incubation Period: One to seven days
- Symptoms: Nausea, abdominal cramps, diarrhea, headache - varying in severity
- Possible Contaminant: Raw milk, eggs, poultry, raw beef, cake icing, water
- Steps for Prevention: Pasteurize milk; cook foods properly; prevent cross-contamination.
- Cause of Illness: Toxin produced by Clostridium botulinum
Incubation Period: 12 to 36 hours
- Symptoms:Nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, fatigue, headache, dry mouth, double vision, muscle paralysis, respiratory failure
- Possible Contaminant: Low-acid canned foods, meats, sausage, fish
- Steps for Prevention: Properly can foods following recommended procedures; cook foods properly.
- Cause of illness: undercooked meats and gravies
- Incubation period: 8 to 22 hours
- Symptoms: abdominal cramps and diarrhea, some include dehydration
- Possible contaminants: meats and gravies
- Steps for prevention: proper attention to cooking temperatures.
- Cause of Illness: Drinking contaminated water; eating raw or undercooked food; putting something in the mouth that has been contaminated with the stool of an infected person or animal; direct contact with the droppings of infected animals.
- Incubation Period: Two to 10 days
- Symptoms: Watery diarrhea accompanied by mild stomach cramping, nausea, loss of appetite. Symptoms may last 10 to 15 days.
- Possible Contaminants: Contaminated water or milk, person-to-person transmission (especially in child daycare settings). Contaminated food can also cause infections.
- Steps for Prevention: Avoid water or food that may be contaminated; wash hands after using the toilet and before handling food. If you work in a child care center where you change diapers, be sure to wash hands thoroughly with soap and warm water after every diaper change, even if you wear gloves. During communitywide outbreaks caused by contaminated drinking water, boil drinking water for 1 minute to kill the Cryptosporidium parasite. Allow water to cool before drinking it.
- Cause of Illness: Strain of enteropathic E.coli
Incubation Period: Two to four days
- Symptoms: Hemorrhagic colitis, possibly hemolytic uremic syndrome
- Possible Contaminant: Ground beef, raw milk
- Steps for Prevention: Thoroughly cook meat; no cross-contamination.
- Cause of Illness: Strain of Giardia lamblia Incubation Period: One to two weeks
- Symptoms: Infection of the small intestine, diarrhea, loose or watery stool, stomach cramps, and lactose intolerance.
- Possible Contaminant: Giardia is found in soil, food, water, or surfaces that have been contaminated with the feces from infected humans or animals..
- Steps for Prevention: Avoid swallowing contaminated recreational water (pools, hot tubs, fountains, lakes, rivers, ponds) or contaminated bathroom fixtures, toys, changing tables, diaper pails; avoid eating uncooked contaminated food; boil water for 1 minute before use or use a water filter with an absolute pore size of at least 1 micron or rated for "cyst removal." Cholorination or iodination of water may be less effective. Avoid fecal exposure during sexual activity
- Cause of illness: Hepatitis A Virus (HAV)
- Incubation period:
- Symptoms: fever, malaise, nausea, abdominal discomfort
- Possible contaminants: water, fruits, vegetables, iced drinks, shellfish, and salads
- Steps for prevention: carefully wash hands with soap and water after using a restroom, changing a diaper, and before preparing food.
- Cause of Illness: Infection with Listeria monocytogenes
Incubation Period: Two days to three weeks
- Symptoms: Meningitis, sepsticemia, miscarriage
- Possible Contaminant: Vegetables, milk, cheese, meat, seafood
- Steps for Prevention: Purchase pasteurized dairy products; cook foods properly; no cross-contamination; use sanitary practices.
- Cause of Illness: Infection with Norwalk virus
Incubation Period: Between 12 and 48 hours (average, 36 hours); duration, 12-60 hours
- Symptoms: Nausea, vomiting, diarrhea and abdominal cramps
- Possible Contaminant: raw oysters/shellfish, water and ice, salads, frosting, person-to-person contact
- Steps for Prevention: Adequate and proper treatment and disposal of sewage, appropriate chlorination of water, restriction of infected food handlers from working with food until they no longer shed virus.
- Cause of Illness: Infection with Salmonella species
Incubation Period: 12 to 24 hours
- Symptoms: Nausea, diarrhea, abdominal pain, fever, headache, chills, prostration
- Possible Contaminant: Meat, poultry, egg or milk products
- Steps for Prevention: Cook thoroughly; avoid cross-contamination; use sanitary practices.
- Cause of Illness: Toxin produced by certain strains of Staphylococcus aureus
- Incubation Period: One to six hours
Symptoms: Severe vomiting, diarrhea, abdominal cramping
- Possible Contaminant: Custard- or cream-filled baked goods, ham, tongue, poultry, dressing, gravy, eggs, potato salad, cream sauces, sandwich fillings
- Steps for Prevention: Refrigerate foods; use sanitary practices.
- Cause of illness: Water contaminated with human feces and unsanitary food handling
- Incubation period: 12 to 50 hours
- Symptoms: abdominal pain, cramps, diarrhea, fever, vomiting, blood, and pus
- Possible contaminants: salads, raw vegetables, dairy products, and poultry
- Steps for prevention: practice proper washing and sanitizing techniques.
- Cause of Illness: Parasitic infection
Incubation Period: Five to 23 days after exposure
- Symptoms: In healthy children and adults, toxoplasmosis may cause no symptoms at all, or may cause a mild illness (swollen lymph glands, fever, headache, and muscle aches).
Toxoplasmosis is a very severe infection for unborn babies and for people with immune system problems.
- Possible Contaminant: Cat, rodent or bird feces, raw or undercooked food.
- Steps for Prevention: Wash hands thoroughly after working with soil, cleaning litter boxes, before and after handling foods, and before eating. Cover sandboxes when not in use.
- Cause of illness: excretion of toxin from infected fish and shellfish
- Incubation period: four hours to four days
- Symptoms: diarrhea, abdominal cramps, nausea, vomiting, headache, fever, and chills
- Possible contaminants: fish and shellfish
- Steps for prevention: cook fish and shellfish thoroughly
- Cause of Illness: Infection with Yersinia enterocolitica
Incubation Period: One to three days
- Symptoms: Enterocolitis, may mimic acute appendicitis
- Possible Contaminant: Raw milk, chocolate milk, water, pork, other raw meats
- Steps for Prevention: Pasteurize milk; cook foods properly; no cross-contamination; use sanitary practices.
Retail/Institutional Food Service Food Safety and Management