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The 3 Most Common Forms of Foodborne Illnesses and How To Prevent Them

Every year, 1 in 6 Americans will suffer some form of foodborne illness as a result of consuming raw meats, spoiled foods or raw produce.  Aside from home preparation, these illnesses are also commonly found in restaurants wherein staff members may have prepared food in an unsanitary manner or may have contracted the illness themselves.  Produce purchased at farmers markets often has a higher risk of being contaminated as many times these items come into contact with farm animals or have been treated with contaminated water.

It is often difficult to tell which foodborne illness you may be suffering from and how to treat it.  There are over 250 bacteria, pathogens or viruses that can cause foodborne illness.  Below are 3 of the most common and where they are most often found.

E. coli

Most often found in: undercooked beef, unpasteurized dairy products, raw produce

Escherichia coli bacteria (more commonly referred to E. coli) are naturally occurring bacteria in the intestinal tract that aid in digestion. However, when exposed outside the intestines, some E. coli, such as E. coli O157:H7, can cause infection or illness.   Also, the vast majority of E. coli outbreaks occur in June through September, although it is not entirely clear why. 

Those who have weakened immune systems, as well as those taking medication to control stomach acid, are often more at risk for E. coli because the body is less able to protect itself

E. coli is often transmitted through contaminated water or foods (like undercooked beef or unpasteurized dairy) or through contact with people or animals. To minimize the risk of E. coli, make sure to thoroughly wash all raw produce, regardless of where it was purchased.  Also, make sure to cook all beef products to 160oF to kill any E. coli bacteria.  Make sure to clean and disinfect any areas where food is prepared before and after preparation. 

For many people with E. coli, the source can be difficult to pinpoint as symptoms can begin anywhere from 1-10 days after the initial contact. Symptoms include severe stomach cramps, vomiting, and diarrhea and these symptoms can last up to a week.  This can be especially concerning for young children and older adults.


Most often found in: Undercooked poultry, eggs, unpasteurized dairy products

Salmonella is a bacteria that cause an infection known as Salmonellosis. Similar to E. coli, Salmonellosis is also more common in the summer months.  These bacteria are transmitted via undercooked chicken or other poultry and unpasteurized dairy products.  Also, raw eggs and foods containing raw eggs (hollandaise sauce, salad dressings, cookie dough and cake batter) may increase the risk of Salmonella and should never be consumed raw.  These bacteria can also be transmitted via direct contact with someone with the bacteria or someone who has prepared your food.

To avoid Salmonella, make sure to prepare meats and produce on separate surfaces to avoid cross-contamination of foods.  Also, do not consume raw or undercooked eggs, poultry or meats.  Poultry items should be cooked to a temperature of 165oF and meats should be cooked to a temperature of 160oF to kill Salmonella bacteria.  Make sure to clean and disinfect any areas where food is prepared before and after preparation. 

Salmonellosis symptoms can present anywhere from 12-72 hours after initial contact.  Symptoms include abdominal cramps, diarrhea, and fever.  These symptoms can last 4-7 days.  This can be especially concerning for young children and older adults.


Most often found in: raw produce, shellfish, contaminated water

Noroviruses are one of the most contagious forms of foodborne illness and it is estimated that half of all foodborne illnesses are a result of norovirus. These viruses can be communicated via direct contact with someone infected or simply by touching a contaminated surface and are especially prevalent in daycare centers and nursing homes due to the confined quarters. 

Another common cause of noroviruses is contaminated water or foods that have been prepared by someone who is contagious.  Raw Shellfish and raw produce are also two of the major sources of Noroviruses and it is best to make sure these foods are washed and prepared properly to kill any viruses.  Make sure to clean and disinfect any areas where food is prepared before and after preparation. 

Norovirus symptoms can take a 12 to 48 hours to present and can include cramps, nausea, diarrhea, fever, headache and vomiting. This can be especially concerning for young children and older adults.

Lab tests are often performed to diagnose the particular virus or bacteria that may be causing symptoms.  If you are unsure of whether to seek medical treatment for a foodborne illness for you or your family, it is always best to err on the side of caution and consult a medical professional.  At GoHealth Urgent Care, our on-site laboratory testing capabilities can help diagnose the particular strain of food poisoning you or a loved one may be suffering.  For your convenience, you can schedule a visit online or walk into any of our locations throughout Long Island, Queens or Staten Island.



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