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Common Foodborne Pathogens

Even though the United States has one of the safest food supplies in the world, there are still
millions of cases of foodborne illness each year. Here are common foodborne pathogens
(disease-causing microorganisms) with research-based information that includes:

 Cause of illness
 Incubation period
 Symptoms
 Possible contaminants
 Steps for prevention

Bacillus cereus

 Cause of illness: large molecular weight protein (diarrheal type) or highly heat-stable
toxin (emetic type)
 Incubation period: 30 minutes to 15 hours
 Symptoms: diarrhea , abdominal cramps, nausea, and vomiting (emetic type)
 Possible contaminants: meats, milk, vegetables, fish, rice, potatoes, pasta, and cheese
 Steps for prevention: pay careful attention to food preparation and cooking guidelines.

Campylobacter jejuni

 Cause of Illness: Infection, even with low numbers

Incubation Period: One to seven days
 Symptoms: Nausea, abdominal cramps, diarrhea, headache - varying in severity
 Possible Contaminant: Raw milk, eggs, poultry, raw beef, cake icing, water
 Steps for Prevention: Pasteurize milk; cook foods properly; prevent cross-contamination.

Clostridium botulinum

 Cause of Illness: Toxin produced by Clostridium botulinum

Incubation Period: 12 to 36 hours
 Symptoms:Nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, fatigue, headache, dry mouth, double vision,
muscle paralysis, respiratory failure
 Possible Contaminant: Low-acid canned foods, meats, sausage, fish
 Steps for Prevention: Properly can foods following recommended procedures; cook foods

Clostridium perfringens

 Cause of illness: undercooked meats and gravies

 Incubation period: 8 to 22 hours
 Symptoms: abdominal cramps and diarrhea, some include dehydration
 Possible contaminants: meats and gravies
 Steps for prevention: proper attention to cooking temperatures.

Cryptosporidium parvum

 Cause of Illness: Drinking contaminated water; eating raw or undercooked food; putting
something in the mouth that has been contaminated with the stool of an infected person
or animal; direct contact with the droppings of infected animals.
 Incubation Period: Two to 10 days
 Symptoms: Watery diarrhea accompanied by mild stomach cramping, nausea, loss of
appetite. Symptoms may last 10 to 15 days.
 Possible Contaminants: Contaminated water or milk, person-to-person transmission
(especially in child daycare settings). Contaminated food can also cause infections.
 Steps for Prevention: Avoid water or food that may be contaminated; wash hands after
using the toilet and before handling food. If you work in a child care center where you
change diapers, be sure to wash hands thoroughly with soap and warm water after every
diaper change, even if you wear gloves. During communitywide outbreaks caused by
contaminated drinking water, boil drinking water for 1 minute to kill the
Cryptosporidium parasite. Allow water to cool before drinking it.

Escherichia coli 0157:H7

 Cause of Illness: Strain of enteropathic E.coli

Incubation Period: Two to four days
 Symptoms: Hemorrhagic colitis, possibly hemolytic uremic syndrome
 Possible Contaminant: Ground beef, raw milk
 Steps for Prevention: Thoroughly cook meat; no cross-contamination.

Giardia lamblia

 Cause of Illness: Strain of Giardia lamblia Incubation Period: One to two weeks
 Symptoms: Infection of the small intestine, diarrhea, loose or watery stool, stomach
cramps, and lactose intolerance.
 Possible Contaminant: Giardia is found in soil, food, water, or surfaces that have been
contaminated with the feces from infected humans or animals..
 Steps for Prevention: Avoid swallowing contaminated recreational water (pools, hot tubs,
fountains, lakes, rivers, ponds) or contaminated bathroom fixtures, toys, changing tables,
diaper pails; avoid eating uncooked contaminated food; boil water for 1 minute before
use or use a water filter with an absolute pore size of at least 1 micron or rated for "cyst
removal." Cholorination or iodination of water may be less effective. Avoid fecal
exposure during sexual activity

Hepatitis A

 Cause of illness: Hepatitis A Virus (HAV)

 Incubation period:
 Symptoms: fever, malaise, nausea, abdominal discomfort
 Possible contaminants: water, fruits, vegetables, iced drinks, shellfish, and salads
 Steps for prevention: carefully wash hands with soap and water after using a restroom,
changing a diaper, and before preparing food.

Listeria monocytogenes

 Cause of Illness: Infection with Listeria monocytogenes

Incubation Period: Two days to three weeks
 Symptoms: Meningitis, sepsticemia, miscarriage
 Possible Contaminant: Vegetables, milk, cheese, meat, seafood
 Steps for Prevention: Purchase pasteurized dairy products; cook foods properly; no cross-
contamination; use sanitary practices.

Norwalk, Norwalk-like, or norovirus

 Cause of Illness: Infection with Norwalk virus

Incubation Period: Between 12 and 48 hours (average, 36 hours); duration, 12-60 hours
 Symptoms: Nausea, vomiting, diarrhea and abdominal cramps
 Possible Contaminant: raw oysters/shellfish, water and ice, salads, frosting, person-to-
person contact
 Steps for Prevention: Adequate and proper treatment and disposal of sewage, appropriate
chlorination of water, restriction of infected food handlers from working with food until
they no longer shed virus.


 Cause of Illness: Infection with Salmonella species

Incubation Period: 12 to 24 hours
 Symptoms: Nausea, diarrhea, abdominal pain, fever, headache, chills, prostration
 Possible Contaminant: Meat, poultry, egg or milk products
 Steps for Prevention: Cook thoroughly; avoid cross-contamination; use sanitary practices.


 Cause of Illness: Toxin produced by certain strains of Staphylococcus aureus

 Incubation Period: One to six hours
Symptoms: Severe vomiting, diarrhea, abdominal cramping
 Possible Contaminant: Custard- or cream-filled baked goods, ham, tongue, poultry,
dressing, gravy, eggs, potato salad, cream sauces, sandwich fillings
 Steps for Prevention: Refrigerate foods; use sanitary practices.


 Cause of illness: Water contaminated with human feces and unsanitary food handling
 Incubation period: 12 to 50 hours
 Symptoms: abdominal pain, cramps, diarrhea, fever, vomiting, blood, and pus
 Possible contaminants: salads, raw vegetables, dairy products, and poultry
 Steps for prevention: practice proper washing and sanitizing techniques.

Toxoplasma gondii

 Cause of Illness: Parasitic infection

Incubation Period: Five to 23 days after exposure
 Symptoms: In healthy children and adults, toxoplasmosis may cause no symptoms at all,
or may cause a mild illness (swollen lymph glands, fever, headache, and muscle aches).
Toxoplasmosis is a very severe infection for unborn babies and for people with immune
system problems.
 Possible Contaminant: Cat, rodent or bird feces, raw or undercooked food.
 Steps for Prevention: Wash hands thoroughly after working with soil, cleaning litter
boxes, before and after handling foods, and before eating. Cover sandboxes when not in


 Cause of illness: excretion of toxin from infected fish and shellfish

 Incubation period: four hours to four days
 Symptoms: diarrhea, abdominal cramps, nausea, vomiting, headache, fever, and chills
 Possible contaminants: fish and shellfish
 Steps for prevention: cook fish and shellfish thoroughly


 Cause of Illness: Infection with Yersinia enterocolitica

Incubation Period: One to three days
 Symptoms: Enterocolitis, may mimic acute appendicitis
 Possible Contaminant: Raw milk, chocolate milk, water, pork, other raw meats
 Steps for Prevention: Pasteurize milk; cook foods properly; no cross-contamination; use
sanitary practices.
Retail/Institutional Food Service Food Safety and Management

 Article History
o Revision Date: 6/22/2010

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Food Safety Tip of the Day

Handwashing is essential
The most commonly used utensil in food production is the preparer's hands, which is why proper
and timely handwashing is essential to preventing foodborne illness. Hands should be washed
before preparing food; after taking a break; after using the restroom; after sneezing, coughing or
using a tissue; after touching any part of the body; and before putting on single-use gloves.

Source: Iowa State University Extension


 Handwashing for Life

 Stalking the Mysterious Microbe
 CDC - Handwashing

Foodborne Pathogen of the Day

 Toxoplasma gondii

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