Date Last Rev'd: March 9, 1995



More than 250 different diseases have been described that can be caused by

contaminated food or drink. The most common foodborne diseases are infections

caused by bacteria, such as Salmonella and Campylobacter, or by the Norwalk

family of viruses.  A foodborne disease outbreak is defined as a group of

people developing the same illnesses after ingesting the same food. Most

cases of foodborne disease are single cases not associated with a recognized


The great majority of food items which cause foodborne diseases are raw or

undercooked foods of animal origin such as meat, milk, eggs, cheese, fish, or


In 1983, it was estimated that there were approximately 6 million cases of

infectious foodborne diseases which caused 9,000 deaths.  Some foodborne

diseases such as botulism and trichinosis are becoming less common, while

others such as salmonellosis are becoming more common.  Thus, the spectrum of

foodborne disease is changing. New infections not previously known to be

foodborne diseases are emerging.

Approximately 400-500 foodborne disease outbreaks are reported each year.

Not all outbreaks or diseases are equally likely to be reported, and many

cases of foodborne diseases are sporadic.

To prevent contracting foodborne diseases, the consumer can do the following:

    1)         Make sure that food from animal sources (meat, diary, eggs) is

    thoroughly cooked or pasteurized.  Avoid eating such foods raw or


    2)         Be careful to keep juices or drippings from raw meat, poultry,

    shellfish or eggs,  from contaminating other foods.

    3)         Do not leave potentially contaminated foods for extended

    periods of time at temperatures that permit bacteria to grow.  Promptly

    refrigerate leftovers and food prepared in advance.

Thorough cooking kills almost all foodborne bacteria, viruses and parasites,

and is the single most important step in preventing foodborne disease.

Preventing spread of contamination from raw foods in the kitchen is also

important. Washing one's hands, cutting board, and knife with soap and water

immediately after handling raw meat, raw poultry, raw seafood or raw eggs

will help keep the foodhandler from contaminating any other foods in the

kitchen.  Persons who are ill with diarrhea or vomiting should not prepare

food for others.  Special care is needed in the preparation of food for

infants, the elderly, and persons whose immune systems are compromised by

underlying illness or medical treatment of illness.

While foodborne diseases, their causes and effects are better understood

today, emerging risks need to be monitored for several reasons.

 First, the food supply of the United States is changing dramatically,  The

 conditions under which food animals are raised have changed greatly.  We

 now import 30 billion tons of food a year, including fruit, vegetables,

 seafoods, and canned goods;  these imported foods are an increasing

 proportion of the diet, and often come from developing countries where food

 hygiene and basic sanitation is less advanced.  Food processing

 technologies are constantly evolving.  The centralization of the food

 industry means that a single contaminated product may appear in many

 different foods and many different forms, and infect a considerable number

 of people before it is identified.

 Second, consumers are changing; there are increasing numbers of elderly or

 immunosuppressed persons who are at higher risk of severe illness;

 consumers spend less time cooking than before, and may have received less

 instruction in food handling in home or school than before.

 Finally, new and emerging foodborne pathogens have been identified, which

 can cause diseases unrecognized 50 years ago. These include bacteria,

 parasites, and viruses, along with toxic causes of foodborne illnesses.

 Constant vigilance is necessary to identify new problems requiring new

 solutions as they emerge.

However, despite these new risks, the food supply of the United States is

probably safer now than ever.


More detailed information on foodborne disease can be found in encyclopedias,

in medical and public health textbooks, and in textbooks on food

microbiology.  CDC Surveillance summaries on foodborne diseases and their

outbreaks are published as supplements to the Morbidity and Mortality Weekly

Report, the MMWR, and are available at many public libraries, and all medical

libraries. These Surveillance summaries include information on salmonellosis,

campylobacteriosis, trichinosis, and viral hepatitis, as well as on foodborne

disease outbreaks. They can also be obtained by writing this office:  Public

Inquires, Office of Public Affairs, Centers for Disease Control, 1600 Clifton

Road, Atlanta, Georgia, 30333.

Questions about the safe handling of food can be addressed to your County

Health Department or County Extension Home Economist.

Questions about the safety of a specific food can be answered by the FDA

Consumer Hotline:  1-301-443-1240.

Questions specifically about meat and poultry can be answered by the USDA

Meat and Poultry Hotline:  1-800-535-4555.

Click for more information on emerging foodborne diseases