Washington State University

Food Safety Extension & Research

Bugs That Make You Sick

Most foodborne illnesses are caused by eating food that contains harmful bacteria, viruses or parasites. After the food is eaten, these microorganisms or germs continue to grow and reproduce in your body, causing an infection. Foods also can cause illness if they contain a toxin or poison that is produced by bacteria growing in the food. It is important to know what “bugs” can make you sick.

  • Botulism

    Cause : Clostridium botulinum . Spore-forming bacteria that can grow and produce toxin in the absence of oxygen, such as in a sealed container or below the surface of food. Examples of foods involved : Improperly canned low-acid food (vegetables, fish, meat, poultry), smoked fish, and improperly handled low-acid cooked foods. Transmission : Eating food contaminated with the toxin. Symptoms : […]

  • C. perfringens poisoning

    Cause : Clostridium perfringens . Spore-forming bacteria that grow in the absence of oxygen. Temperatures reached in thorough cooking of most foods are not sufficient to destroy the heat-resistant spores and these begin to grow if a large volume of food is cooled slowly. Examples of foods involved : Cooked meat and poultry, stews, refried beans, soups, gravies left […]

  • Escherichia coli 0157:H7 infections

    Cause : Escherichia coli 0157:H7. Bacteria are found in the manure of cattle and other ruminant animals. Examples of foods involved : Undercooked ground beef, unpasteurized (raw) milk, unpasteurized juices, raw fruits and vegetables. Transmission : Eating foods contaminated with the bacteria, from person-to-person contact with an infected person who has some on his or her hands or by touching […]

  • Listeriosis

    Cause : Listeria monocytogenes . Bacteria widespread in nature can live in soil as well as intestinal tracts of humans and animals. Examples of foods Involved : Raw milk, soft cheese, undercooked meat or poultry. Processed foods such as hot dogs, luncheon meats and smoked fish. Symptoms : Headache, fever, and nausea. Can lead to meningitis. Can result in miscarriage […]

  • Norovirus infection

    Cause : A group of similar viruses called the “Norovirus family.” Examples of foods involved : Contaminated shellfish, ready-to-eat foods touched by infected food handlers; also contaminated water. Transmission : Eating food or drinking water contaminated with relatively small numbers of viruses or directly person-to-person. Symptoms : The illness is usually mild and characterized by nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, and […]

  • Salmonellosis and Campylobacteriosis

    Cause : Salmonella species and Campylobacter jejuní . Bacteria widespread in nature; live and grow in intestinal tracts of humans and animals. Examples of foods involved : Raw or undercooked poultry, meat and eggs. Unpasteurized dairy products. Contaminated raw fruits and vegetables. Transmission : Eating contaminated food, or contact with infected persons or carriers of the infection. Also transmitted by insects, rodents, […]

  • Shigellosis

    Cause: Shigella species, which infect humans and other primates. Examples of foods involved : Ready-to-eat foods touched by infected food workers, raw vegetables. Transmission: Fecal-oral transmission. Person-to-person or by food or water contaminated with fecal material. Symptoms : Abdominal pain, cramps, diarrhea, fever. Stools may contain blood and mucus. Prevention : Wash hands with soap carefully and frequently, especially after going […]

  • Staphylococcal poisoning

    Cause : Staphylococcus aureus . Bacteria growing in food produce a toxin that is extremely resistant to heat. Examples of foods Involved : Custards, egg salad, potato salad, chicken salad, macaroni salad, ham, salami, cheese, cooked poultry, and stuffing. Transmission : Eating food containing the toxin. Food handlers can carry the bacteria in infected cuts and wounds and in the […]

  • Toxoplasmosis

    Cause : Toxoplasma gondii is a parasite that infects essentially all cats that spend any time outdoors. The infective stage develops in the gut of the cat and the parasite is then shed in cat feces. Animals that have eaten food or water contaminated with cat feces may have the parasite in their meat. Soil contaminated with cat […]

  • Vibriosis

    Cause : Vibrio parahaemolyticus, Vibrio vulnificus . Bacteria are common in seawater. Other Vibrio species found in seawater (including Víbrio cholera ) can cause foodborne disease. Examples of foods involved : Raw or undercooked seafood such as oysters, shrimp, crabs, and clams. Open wounds exposed to seawater. Transmission : Eating seafood contaminated with large numbers of bacteria. Symptoms : Vomiting, diarrhea, abdominal cramps, […]

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