What is Foodborne Illness?

A foodborne illness (fbi) is an illness that is caused by the food you eat. Even though America's food supply is the safest in the world, millions of people are affected by foodborne illnesses. According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), foodborne illnesses cause about 76 million cases of illnesses, 325,000 hospitalizations, and 5,000 deaths in the United States each year. Foodborne illnesses are traditionally thought of as being caused by germs (microorganisms, bacteria, viruses, parasites), but injuries or illnesses due to a physical contaminant or chemical poison are considered to be a foodborne illness as well.

Foodborne illnesses caused by germs are classified as either intoxications or infections. Food intoxications are illnesses that result from the consumption of food containing toxins (poisons) that are produced by the germ. Food infections are illnesses due to organisms that are consumed and continue to multiply within the body. Organisms that cause illnesses can be found in a wide range of foods such as meat, poultry, eggs, rice, vegetables, puddings, sauces, milk, and seafood. All foods have the potential to cause disease if contaminated.

Common symptoms of foodborne illness include diarrhea, nausea, and fever. Because organisms can cause similar symptoms, naming the microbe responsible for an illness is difficult unless lab tests are done to identify the microbe in the food and patient. Symptoms may come as soon as a half-hour after eating the contaminated food or they may not develop for several days or weeks.

Because many ill people do not seek medical attention, many foodborne illnesses go undiagnosed. The great majority of illnesses are unreported and therefore uninvestigated. For instance, the CDC estimates that for each case of reported salmonella, 38 cases actually occur.

The Environmental Health Services of the DuPage County Health Department investigates foodborne illness complaints. If you have a concern about a possible food related illness, contact your nearest public health center.

For more information regarding foodborne diseases see the Centers for Disease Control's web site or the Fight BAC site.