Food-borne Illness

This page contains information about symptoms and causes of food-borne illness (commonly known as food poisoning.)Woman Chef

What is food-borne illness?

Food-borne illness (often called food poisoning) occurs when you eat food that is contaminated. 

Food-borne illness is a general term for:

  • infections caused by micro-organisms such as bacteria, viruses, and parasites 
  • poisoning by toxins from bacteria or mould in food
  • poisoning by chemicals in food

There are currently over 200 diseases that are transmitted through food. (Institute of Food Technologists Expert Report on Food Safety Issues in the 21st Century, 2002) 

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What are symptoms of food-borne illness?

The most common symptoms of food-borne illness are nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, and fever. Symptoms can range from mild (a few stomach cramps) to extremely serious (may cause death).

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How can I prevent food-borne illness?

You can reduce the chance of food poisoning by ensuring that food is handled, cooked and stored properly. There are 4 important steps you should always take when handling food:

  1. Cleanwash hands and surfaces often
  2. Separate: do not cross-contaminate (e.g. do not use the same cutting board for raw meats and vegetables
  3. Cook: cook to proper temperatures
  4. Chill: refrigerate promptly

Visit the FightBAC!TM website for more tips on how to prepare, cook and store food safely.

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Does a person feel sick immediately after eating bad (contaminated) food?

Not always. It depends on what caused the symptoms. 

  • Food-borne illness caused by bacterial toxins in food or chemical contamination of food usually happens shortly after eating, within 2 - 4 hours.
  • Food-borne infections may take several days to cause illness. Salmonella usually takes between 12 - 24 hours, but may take as long as 3 days. E. coli 0157:H7 usually takes 3 or 4 days, but may take up to 8 days to cause symptoms.
  • Food-borne illness caused by the virus hepatitis A usually takes 30 days, but may be as long as 50 days.

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What is food-borne bacterial infection?

  • Infection occurs when the bacteria in food multiply and cause bowel irritation for anyone who eats the contaminated food.
  • Symptoms usually include fever, abdominal cramps and diarrhea. 
  • Common infections include salmonella poisoning due to undercooked chicken or meat.

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What is food-borne bacterial intoxication?

  • Intoxication occurs when the bacteria in food multiply and produce harmful poisons or toxins in the food. 
  • In some cases, these toxins can be deadly. 
  • The main symptom of a food-borne intoxication is usually vomiting, but may also include some diarrhea.
  • A common intoxication is Staphylococcus aureus (e.g., sliced meat and custards left at room temperature). Clostridium botulinum or Botulism is less common but more severe (example – improperly canned products such as vegetables and meats, foil wrapped potatoes etc.).

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What do I do if I have food-borne illness?

If you feel sick and think you may have food-borne illness it is important to visit your doctor who will run tests to determine whether or not you have become ill due to contaminated food. 

  • Your doctor will notify the Health Department of any positive results. 
  • A public health inspector will then investigate your case and will follow up with you and/or the food premises to determine what may have been the source of the contaminated food.

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