8 Common Foodborne Illnesses And Their Symptoms

Our nation’s recent salmonella outbreak has rekindled discussions about foodborne illnesses and how they spread. The good news is that most of these illnesses can be avoided with proper food processing and preparation procedures along with simple hand washing. If you don’t know your botulism from your mad cow disease, CalorieLab has put together a list of 8 of the most prevalent foodborne illnesses and their symptoms. Check out the list, inside…

Botulism is caused by bacterial spores that lay dormant until conditions exist to support their growth and often occurrs when people can their own food. Symptoms include blurred vision, droopy eyelids, slurred speech and muscle weakness and usually occur 18 to 36 hours after ingesting the contaminated food.

Campylobacter is an illness caused by a bacteria with the same name. This is the bacteria infamous for thriving in undercooked chicken. It is the most common bacterial cause of diarrhea on earth.

E. Coli

Esherichia coli actually refers to a group of bacteria of which only a few are harmful. The bacteria live in the digestive tract of animals such as cattle, deer, goats and sheep. Typically, contamination occurs during the slaughter of the animal when bacteria escapes from the stomach and taints the meat. Symptoms include bloody diarrhea, stomach cramps, vomiting and sometimes a fever.


Listeria causes listerosis, a disease which is 20 times more likely to afflict pregnant women than other healthy adults. Infections are typically caused by uncooked meats, raw-milk cheese, vegetables or cold cuts which have been cross contaminated in a food preparation area. Initial symptoms include fever, muscle aches, nausea or diarrhea.

Mad Cow Disease

Also known as bovine spongiform encephalopathy, mad cow disease is a degenerative disease which affects the nervous system of cattle. Humans that consume the infected animals can develop a disease that is a variant of Creutzfeldt-Jakob Disease which is always fatal. “Symptoms of vCJD include dementia, memory loss, hallucinations and personality changes paired with physical changes such as jerky movements, slurred speech, difficulty walking or changes in posture or gait and seizures.”


Infamous for running wild in cruise ships, it is a virus that can be contracted by coming in contact with a contaminated surface or from food preparers who don’t wash their hands after using the bathroom. Often, people think they have the flu but it is really Norovirus. Symptoms can start 12 to 48 hours after exposure and include vomiting, diarrhea, abdominal pain, headaches and fatigue.

This is another bacteria that thrives in the intestinal tracts of animals. It is spread when the animal’s feces come into contact with food that isn’t cooked. Symptoms start 12 to 72 hours after exposure and include diarrhea, fever or abdominal cramps.


This is an infection that occurs when people eat wild mushrooms or domesticated pigs which contain larvae of the worm called trichinella. “This infection is pretty gross to describe. When you eat tainted meat, the larvae or cysts of the worms are ingested, and your stomach acid dissolves the cyst, releasing the worm, which matures in a couple of days in your small intestine.

The worms mate in there and the females lay eggs, which then develop into immature worms, travel through the arteries into the muscles and there form cysts again.

You might get a stomach ache, nausea, diarrhea, vomiting, fatigue or fever in one or two days after eating tainted meat, and two to eight weeks later you may have further symptoms such as headaches, fever and chills, coughing, eye swelling, muscle or joint pain, itchy skin, constipation or diarrhea.”

For more details about each illness, check out the full article.

The big 8 foodborne illnesses and what they do to you [CalorieLab] (Thanks to Mark!)
(Photo: Getty)


Edit Your Comment

  1. Anonymous says:

    The symptoms for botulism sound a lot like the symptoms of drunkenness.

    Also, I’ll pass on reading “more details about each illness” thank you very much. Maybe after I finish my medium-rare bacon sandwich.

  2. cobaltthorium says:

    Trichinosis sounds disgusting. Still, I don’t eat game meat, and pork’s always cooked. Does anyone know if this affects bacon?

  3. Is Taco Bell a foodborne illness? B/c I get some of these symptoms when I eat their food.

  4. sixninezero says:

    @cobaltthorium: Bacon is cured on a brine solution then usually smoked. If you cook bacon to an internal temperature of 160F, you shouldn’t have a problem. Keep in mind that since farmers usually feed their pigs formulated pig feed the possibility for trichinosis is extremely small.

  5. arsbadmojo says:

    I picked up “Fast Food Nation” at a half-price bookstore and am 2/3rds of the way through it. One of the things the book talks about is how 90% of the ground beef consumed in this country comes from a few very large processing plants, and how a single hamburger can contan meat from thousands of cows. Add to that mix the USDA inspectors are pretty much useless and the meat industry has resisted every regulatory proposal made, and you’ve got all the ingredients that e. coli O157:H7 needs to make a lot of people sick.

    I’m not anti-meat by any means, but I’m going to have a really hard time eating a fast food burger again. There’s a guy at the farmer’s market that sells beef. Grass fed, and hopefully butchered at a facility where carcasses aren’t going down the line so fast that feces spray everywhere.

    And we’ve already had a Consumerist story saying that we’ll probably never know where the salmonella in the tomatoes came from. That’s just great. Green onions killed Chi-Chis. Then spinach last year, tomaotes this year – what’s next?

  6. MeOhMy says:

    @cobaltthorium: I think it can be in any part of the pig since the worms reside in muscle tissue. The good news is that Trichinosis from farmed pigs is extremely rare in the US th… Rare enough that it’s actually once again becoming accepted to serve pork that your parents and grandparents would have considered undercooked.

  7. milk says:

    Trichinosis eyes are scary. :(

  8. ThinkerTDM says:

    I am not sure if I would include “Mad Cow Disease” as a common food bourne illness.

  9. cobaltthorium says:

    @Troy F.: My pork is usually frozen for a long time before I eat it. Besides, I’m paranoid about under-cooked meat and cross-contamination ever since that video in HS …

  10. larsitron says:

    The issue with Mad Cow is that it takes years for symptoms to develop. Check out proper cooking temperatures to prevent all of these baddies.

  11. zentex says:

    @me and the sysop: I coulda went my entire life not seeing that.

  12. dripdrop says:

    @me and the sysop:


  13. johnva says:

    @Troy F.: I’ve read that trichinosis may have been one of the original reasons for the Jewish/Muslim prohibitions against eating pork.

  14. rkmase says:

    Seriously? Mad Cow Disease is rare, and as for trichnosis (from the CDC) “During 1997-2001, an average of 12 cases per year were reported.”

    Scaremongering. Tsk tsk.

  15. tedyc03 says:

    I want to know where Consumerist finds these photos. Who photographs themselves at a toilet like that? Seriously?

  16. velvetjones says:

    @johnva: yes that, and that they lounge in their own feces.

    Listeria is a lot more scary than they portray it. It causes stillbirth, miscarriage and premature delivery. Also, I hope people realize that there is no such thing as the “stomach flu” if you are vomiting etc. you have food poisoning.

  17. Balisong says:

    @tedyc03: Actually, my first thought was that she looks like she belongs there. Eat a sammitch and keep it down, lady!

  18. tinyrobot says:

    @rkmase: Amen.

    Here in the lovely western world, factory farmed meat will give you the runs eventually (why wouldn’t you buy local anyhow?), but as per the Salmonella tomatoes, while these ailments are certainly uncomfortable they are readily recognized and treated.

    Trichinosis on the other hand is scary as hell, but is often caught by the FDA meat inspections. It usually occurs in people who butcher their own hogs, or get iffy-sourced meat. That said, those larval cysts can end up in your brain, your organs, get calcified… it’s horrible, and not anywhere near as treatable as the others on the list (though much, MUCH more rare). In fact, cases often last for years, and end up being fatal once the larvae enter the central nervous system (brain or spinal cord); there are really no treatments to kill the encysted larvae.

    But unless you feed pigs crap (literally), and butcher them yourself or eat bear meat, you simply are not going to get it. So come on now – eat local, wash your veggies, don’t eat things that don’t smell right, and enjoy a long healthy life with more time on your hands since you don’t have to incessantly worry every time a story comes on the 11 o’clock news.

  19. nerdette314159 says:

    @me and the sysop:

    AHHH Ze goggles, zey do nothing!

    My eyes will be watering for the next 10 minutes thanks to that image. Ughhhhh

  20. Juliekins says:

    @me and the sysop: Jesus Christ, those trichinosis eyes are going to HAUNT my DREAMS.

    I’ve been slacking on making it to the farmers’ market this summer, but dammit this article has spurred me to it. I’m going to go hit up the lovely local beef farmer and get some veggies while I’m at it. The trichinosis eyes compel me.

  21. ilovemom says:

    @MeSoHornsby: Except that botulism ultimately paralyzes your diaphragm, then you stop breathing, then you die. That’s some hangover.

  22. Trai_Dep says:

    @me and the sysop: Damn kids and their marijuana!

  23. Trai_Dep says:

    @velvetjones: Well, to be fair to the pig, he lounges in mud because he lacks sweat glands and uses it to cool down. In the wild, they’d never do that in their own feces.

  24. famousmortimer78 says:


    Yeah, but the botulin makes your diaphragm look so youthful again…

  25. thufir_hawat says:

    I don’t know the picture’s origin, but given the subject’s physique, I would aver that she was in that position by choice.

  26. whatdoyoucare says:

    @velvetjones: Apparently you have never been around children before. Every year the stomach flu hits schools. It is passed around to every classroom and for a few weeks each classroom has a handful of kids out.

    I do agree that a lot (but not all) of throwing up is due to food poisoning though.

  27. sarujin says:

    You can cook the meat all you want mad cow is protein based (prion disease) and you can not cook it out.

    Also I agree with the other poster, CFJ is NOT common. It is even debatable if it is food borne at all.

  28. MeOhMy says:

    @whatdoyoucare: What velvetjones is getting at is that what is coloquially known as “stomach flu” is not an actual disease. Most of the time when all of the kids at school get “stomach flu” it’s some variation of Norovirus, which…I’m not epidemiologist, but I don’t even think norovirus counts as a “food poisoning” since it’s ridiculously easy to transmit from person to person by all kinds of methods other than food prep.

    Basically the term “stomach flu” is a misnomer.

  29. jimconsumer says:

    Is the girl in the picture throwing up because of a foodborne illness, or malnutrition?

  30. mandiejackson says:

    Norovirus— do cruise ship chefs poop on their hands or something?

    No one talked about D.A.D.S. …

    Day after drinking shits.

    If you are a raging alcoholic you could convince yourself that you had Campylobacter instead of one-too-many doubles at the local Raven Club

  31. larry_y says:

    How much the problem is due to hygiene and cross-contamination vs. modern industrial agriculture?

    And no hepatitis, crypto, take your pick from [www.cdc.gov] ? Those are a lot more common than BSE.

    While BSE is extremely rare, as far as we know, no amount of proper food processing or preparation technique will protect you from it.

    Recently, the Koreans had a huge political upheaval over US cattle imports, originally banned because of BSE detection. Maybe there should be a Consumerist post on why Koreans don’t want U.S. beef?

  32. TechnoDestructo says:


    There is no temperature at which you will neutralize Mad Cow disease while keeping the meat palatable (or possibly edible).

    But yeah…it takes years to develop…so for all we know it COULD be really common right now. Like 10 years from now, everyone who ate at a McDonald’s in the early 2000s could start drooling all over themselves.

    @Git Em SteveDave has a crush on the Swedes:

    Either you need to go to a different Taco Bell, or you’ve got some immunity issues.

  33. swimmey says:

    Norovirus is nasty, nasty stuff. My daughter’s summer camp was cancelled last week and they sent everybody home because of an outbreak. Two children showed up ill on Sunday; a third of the kids and staff were sick by midday Wednesday. Viruses like that can go airborne, get on your hands or a food prep surface and boom. I was told the kitchen was badly contaminated.

  34. louveciennes says:

    I have gotten norovirus the last 2 Christmases in a row. I guess Louisiana (where I flew home to be with my family) is an exceptioanlly filthy state.

  35. xQuizx says:

    In late 2006 I thought I had trichinosis fortunately it was only appendicitis. A few days later I wandered into the hospital where they had an emergency operation and a few days later voila I was out of there. =)

  36. BytheSea says:

    Waaaait a minute, the article presents Mad Cow Disease as if it’s as common as everyday food poisoning! Just, don’t eat the mystery meat casserole at the Paupa New Guinea church potluck and you’ll be fine.

  37. evilhapposai says:

    If the illegal immigrant has no concern over the laws of jumping the borders what makes you think he is going to care about running to a bathroom instead of crapping wherever he is out in the field when nature calls.

    Solution? If you are illegal you are deported immediately. If you hired an illegal your company is closed and and your assets are seized to aid immigration. End of most salmonella in the country.

  38. littlemoose says:

    Awww, my sister has food poisoning right now. Based on this, it’s probably norovirus. Lucky her.

    Also, immigrants have nothing to do with foodborne illnesses, as everyone other than the troll knows.

  39. sarujin says:

    @evilhapposai: So breaking the law to get a better life means that you have no personal hygiene standards? Non Sequitur.

    How about if you are going to break the law to hire undocumented workers, you probably are not too concerned about product safety either. Any way to save a buck.

  40. sarujin says:

    @evilhapposai: So breaking the law to get a better life means that you have no personal hygiene standards? Non Sequitur.
    How about if you are going to break the law to hire undocumented workers, you probably are not too concerned about product safety either. Any way to save a buck.