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Food-borne Illnesses Common and Often Serious January 14, 2010

FOR MORE INFORMATION, contact Rebecca Sylvester at 706/828-2394.

Food-borne Illnesses Common and Often Serious

AUGUSTA, GA. (Jan. 13, 2010) - While the American food supply is among the safest in the world, the federal government estimates that there are more than 76 million cases of food-borne illness annually resulting in 325,000 hospitalizations and 5,000 deaths. 

"When broken down further, it's estimated that 13 men, women and/or children die every day from some type of food-borne illness," reports Beth Barranco, R.N., from University Hospital and medical correspondent for NBC Augusta's Healthy U segment.

All people are susceptible to food-borne illness, however, people with lowered immune systems, the very young and the very old and pregnant women are at highest risk. Here are some of the more common food-borne organisms:


Common Name of Illness

Onset Time After Ingesting

Signs & Symptoms


Food Sources



12-72 hours

Vomiting, diarrhea, blurred vision, double vision, difficulty in swallowing, muscle weakness. Can result in respiratory failure and death.


Improperly canned foods, especially home-canned vegetables, fermented fish, baked potatoes in aluminum foil, bottled garlic.

E. coli
(Escherichia coli)

producing toxin

E. coli infection

1-3 days

Watery diarrhea, abdominal cramps, some vomiting

3-7 or more days

Water or food contaminated with human feces



9-48 hrs for gastro-intestinal symptoms, 2-6 weeks for invasive disease

Fever, muscle aches, and nausea or diarrhea. Pregnant women may have mild flu-like illness, and infection can lead to premature delivery or stillbirth. The elderly or immunocompromised patients may develop bacteremia or meningitis.


Unpasteurized milk, soft cheeses made with unpasteurized milk, ready-to-eat deli meats


Variously called viral gastroenteritis, winter diarrhea, acute non- bacterial gastroenteritis, food poisoning, and food infection


12-48 hrs

Nausea, vomiting, abdominal cramping, diarrhea, fever, headache. Diarrhea is more prevalent in adults, vomiting more common in children.

12-60 hrs

Raw produce, contaminated drinking water, uncooked foods and cooked foods that are not reheated after contact with an infected food handler; shellfish from contaminated waters.



6-48 hours

Diarrhea, fever, abdominal cramps, vomiting

4-7 days

Eggs, poultry, meat, unpasteurized milk or juice, cheese, contaminated raw fruits and vegetables

Courtesy of U.S Food and Drug Administration

According to the Food and Drug Administration, the best way to prevent food-borne illnesses is to follow these recommendations:

  • CLEAN -- Wash your hands and surfaces often
  • SEPARATE -- Don't cross-contaminate food, utensils or food preparation surfaces
  • COOK -- Cook to proper temperatures, especially meats
  • CHILL -- Refrigerate promptly. Keep an appliance thermometer in your refrigerator and freezer to ensure that it is at 40 °F or below and your freezer is at 0 °F or below.  Cooked food should be refrigerated within 2 hours.

"If you have a food product that has been recalled, don't take any chances. Discard it immediately," Mrs. Barranco warned. She offers these other safety measures:

  • Not all foods will "smell or taste" bad even though they are spoiled and no good.  If there is any question of the safety of that food product, discard it immediately.
  • Even when refrigerated properly (40 degrees F), leftovers should be eaten, frozen or discarded in 3-4 days. Temperature and time cause bacteria to grow which is why it is so important to refrigerate promptly and not keep leftovers too long.
  • When reheating cooked leftovers, the temperature should reach 165 degrees F as measured by a food thermometer and sauces, gravies and soups should be brought to a boil.
  • When using a microwave to heat leftovers, make sure there are no cold spots in the food.  Bacteria can survive there and make you sick.  Cover all dishes and rotate them for even cooking.

There are numerous resources available for questions on food safety.  You can visit the Food and Drug Administration Web site at or call ASK-A-NURSE at 706/737-8423. Healthy U airs every Tuesday morning at 6:20 a.m. on NBC Augusta.



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