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What Causes Food Poisoning?

Many different disease-causing germs can contaminate foods, so there are many different foodborne infections.

CDC estimates that each year 48 million people get sick from a foodborne illness, 128,000 are hospitalized, and 3,000 die.

  • Researchers have identified more than 250 foodborne diseases.
  • Most of them are infections, caused by a variety of bacteria, viruses, and parasites.
  • Harmful toxins and chemicals also can contaminate foods and cause foodborne illness.

Do I Have Food Poisoning?

Elderly lady in hospital bed high risk for food poisoning

Common symptoms  of foodborne diseases are nausea, vomiting, stomach cramps, and diarrhea. However, symptoms may differ among the different types of foodborne diseases. Symptoms can sometimes be severe and some foodborne illnesses can even be life-threatening. Although anyone can get a foodborne illness, some people are more likely to develop one. Those groups include:

  • Pregnant women
  • Young children
  • Older adults
  • People with immune systems weakened from medical conditions, such as diabetes, liver disease, kidney disease, organ transplants, HIV/AIDS, or from receiving chemotherapy or radiation treatment.

Most people with a foodborne illness get better without medical treatment, but people with severe symptoms should see their doctor.

Compare the symptoms of different foodborne germs that cause food poisoning >>

Some Common Foodborne Germs

Illustration of c. perfringens

Clostridium perfringens

The top five germs that cause illnesses from food eaten in the United States are:


Some other germs don’t cause as many illnesses, but when they do, the illnesses are more likely to lead to hospitalization. Those germs include:

Graphical illustration of ecoli

Escherichia coli

See a complete list of foodborne germs at A-Z Index >>

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