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No one plans to enjoy a deliciously satisfying meal only to end up with food poisoning. However, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that 48 million people get sick from a foodborne illness each year. In addition, the CDC estimates that at least 128,000 of those cases require hospitalization and 3,000 results in death.

How does food poisoning happen?

A foodborne illness, also referred to as food poisoning, happens after food or water contaminated with bacteria, viruses, parasites or toxins are swallowed. In fact, infectious organisms or their toxins are the most common causes of food poisoning.

Food contamination may occurs in a number of ways. For example, contamination may occur if the person handling or preparing the food practices improper handwashing hygiene. Another way food can be contaminated is through cross-contamination. Cross-contamination occurs when microbes transfer from one food to another by using the same knife, cutting board or utensil without washing the surface between uses.

Some instances of contamination occur before the food even reaches the kitchen. Contamination can occur at any point, including in the production, processing or distribution stages.

Who is at risk of contracting a foodborne illness?

Pregnant women, young children, the elderly and people with weakened immune systems from medical conditions are at a higher risk of developing food poisoning.

These groups of people are more likely to suffer food poisoning because their body’s ability to fight germs and sickness is not as effective as others are. For example, during pregnancy, hormones are in flux, which causes the immune system to alter. Pregnant women are 10 times more likely to suffer a Listeria infection.

Because the immune systems of young children are still developing, they are also at an increased risk for infections. As a matter of fact, children under five are three times more likely to be hospitalized if they contract Salmonella. In addition, one out of seven children under age five who are diagnosed with E. coli will also suffer kidney failure.

As adults continue to age, their immune systems weaken, making it harder to fight off bacteria and serious illness. Older adults have less stomach acid that helps control bacteria. In addition, older adults have weakened kidneys that assist in filtering bacteria from the blood.

It is important to note that approximately 80 percent of older adults take at least one medication after being diagnosed with at least one chronic condition such as diabetes, or cardiovascular disease. Such factors contribute to the weakening of the immune system. Individuals on dialysis are 50 times more likely to develop a Listeria infection.

Illness-causing germs

Researchers have identified more than 250 foodborne diseases. The top five illness-causing germs from food eaten in the United States are:

Norovirus– Symptoms appear within 12 to 48 hours. An infected person contaminated food like leafy greens, fresh fruits, shellfish or water, by touching contaminated surfaces.

Salmonella– Symptoms appear within 12 to 72 hours. Salmonella food sources are eggs, raw or undercooked poultry or meat, unpasteurized milk or juice, cheese, raw fruits and vegetables.

Clostridium perfringens– Symptoms appear within six to 24 hours. Beef or poultry, especially large roasts, gravies, dried or precooked foods are common food sources.

Campylobacter– Symptoms appear within two to five days. This germs food sources include raw or undercooked poultry, raw unpasteurized milk and contaminated water.

Staphylococcus aureus (Staph) – Symptoms may appear within 30 minutes to six hours. Foods handled by people and not cooked such as sliced meat, puddings, pastries, and sandwiches could carry staph.

The germs most likely to lead to hospitalization are:

Clostridium botulinum– Symptoms appear within 18 to 36 hours. The common food source is improperly canned or fermented foods, usually homemade.

Listeria– Symptoms appear within one to four weeks. Raw, unpasteurized milk, soft cheeses made with raw milk, raw sprouts, melons, hot dogs, lunchmeats and smoked seafood are all listeria common food sources.

Escherichia coli (E.coli)– Symptoms appear within three to four days. Common food sources include raw or undercooked ground beef, raw, unpasteurized milk and juice, raw vegetables and contaminated water.

Vibrio– Symptoms appear within one to four days. Raw or undercooked shellfish, particularly oysters are vibrio common food sources.

Symptoms of food poisoning:

  • Stomach cramping
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Chills
  • Dehydration
  • Dizziness
  • Fatigue
  • Fever over 101.5
  • Loss of appetite
  • Sweating
  • Headache
  • Weakness

How to treat a foodborne illness

The most important aspect of foodborne illness treatment is ensuring adequate hydration by replacing lost fluids and electrolytes and keeping up with fluid intake.

Most people who contract a foodborne illness will be able to recover at home with plenty of fluids and rest. Keep in mind, sports drinks are not a proper treatment for diarrheal illnesses because they do not replace the losses correctly. If the patient requires hospitalization, the healthcare professionals will replace fluids, provide medications and monitor the patient for changes.

Ceralyte, Pedialyte or Oralyte are all oral rehydration solution that will help replace fluid losses and prevent dehydration if diarrhea is severe. Be careful if considering taking anti-diarrheal medication. Although it may provide relief, these medications may make the illness worse if there is high fever or blood in the stools.


Fortunately, most people who become ill due to food poisoning will experience a mild illness that they will overcome after a few days. On the other hand, some people will become so ill that hospitalization is necessary. The sad reality is that some foodborne illnesses result in long-term health problems such as brain and nerve damage and, in severe cases, death. Salmonella infection has the potential of leading to reactive arthritis and E. Coli infections may result in kidney injury or kidney failure.

Preventing food poisoning in the kitchen

Awareness is the first step in preventing food poisoning. It is important to follow these four simple steps to keep your family safe from contracting a foodborne illness.


Germs that cause food poisoning can spread around your kitchen. Wash your hands thoroughly with soap and water for 20 seconds before, during and after prepping food. Make sure to wash all utensils, cutting boards and countertops with hot, soapy water. Always rinse fresh fruits and vegetables under running water. It is critical to clean and disinfect countertops and all surfaces often.


Don’t cross-contaminate! Raw meat, poultry, seafood and eggs can spread germs to other foods unless you keep them separate. This means you should always use separate cutting boards and plates for raw meat, poultry and seafood. This step is not limited to the kitchen, when grocery shopping, keep raw meat, poultry and seafood away from other foods. Once you arrive home and are ready to refrigerate your groceries, keep raw meat, poultry, seafood and eggs separate from all other foods. It’s recommended that you store raw meat at the bottom of your fridge. In case it leaks, it won’t contaminate anything below it.

Cook to the right temperature

When the internal temperature gets high enough to kill germs that can make you sick, the food is safely cooked. Keep in mind that simply looking at the color and texture of the food is not safe enough to determine it is fully cooked. The most effective way to tell if your food is cooked to a safe internal temperature is to use a food thermometer.


Make sure your refrigerator is set below 40 degrees Fahrenheit. Perishable food should be refrigerated within two hours. If you need to thaw food, it is safe to do so in the refrigerator, cold water or the microwave. It is not safe to thaw food on the countertop as bacteria multiply quickly on food that has reached room temperature.

How The Carlson Law Firm can help

If you or a loved one became ill after ingesting contaminated food or drink, let us analyze your case and explore your legal options. We have been protecting the rights of personal injury victims for more than 40 years and have proven results. Our goal is to get maximum compensation on your behalf while you take time to recover. Contact us today for a free, no-obligation consultation. We care, we can help.

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