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What is a Foodborne Illness?

Updated: Sep 1, 2021

What is foodborne illness?

A foodborne illness, also known as food poisoning, is a sickness transferred to people by food or water. It is caused by consuming contaminated food or beverage.

Food or water can be contaminated with:

• bacteria, (Salmonella and E.coli)

• viruses, (Hepatitis A and Norovirus)

• parasites, (Giardia and Anisakis)

• or chemical or natural toxins such as poisonous mushrooms.

These beauties are Salmonella bacteria and can turn deadly for the young, the elderly and the immune compromised diner. Salmonella is in the top 5 Foodborne Illnesses and no one you want to invite into your kitchen. Is it preventable? Check out the CDC page here.

How does a person get a foodborne illness?

  • Eating something raw like a rare ground beef patty or uncooked oyster shooters that are contaminated and have not gone through a 'temperature kill step.' Remember those final cooking temperatures we ask about? Cooking ground beef to 155F for 15 seconds or more? Shellfish to 145F? That temperature will kill any pathogens if there are any present on the product.

  • Unwashed produce that has traces of raw manure (deer droppings or untreated fertilizer) or contaminated water can carry viruses and bacteria (cattle feedlot runoff into a groundwater source).

  • Unpasteurized juices and sprouts (e.g., alfalfa and mung bean).

  • Any food item that is touched by a person who is ill with vomiting or diarrhea or who has recently had such an illness can become contaminated. When these food items are not subsequently cooked (e.g., salads, cut fruit), they can pass the disease to others.

What are the symptoms?

  • Common symptoms of foodborne illness are diarrhea or vomiting, abdominal cramps, nausea, fever, joint/backaches, and fatigue.

  • The incubation period (the time between exposure to the pathogen and onset of symptoms) can range from several hours to one week.

  • The symptoms of illness that require you to send an employee home are vomiting, diarrhea, sore throat with fever, and yellow skin or eyes. These are the symptoms of highly infectious pathogens. They are called the Big 5.

The Big 5 are:

  • Norovirus,

  • Salmonella Typhi (typhoid-like fever),

  • E. coli O157:H7, Enterohemorrhagic or Shiga toxin-producing E. coli,

  • Shigella spp. (causes shigellosis), and

  • Hepatitis A virus.

What do I do if my employee has these symptoms?

They should be excluded from work and see a doctor if possible. Any confirmed cases need to be reported to the health department. They will also guide you on when an employee can safely return to work with a confirmed case. The Communicable Disease team can be reached at 503-988-3406.


  1. Clean: Wash your hands and surfaces correctly and often

  2. Separate: Don't cross-contaminate while storing or prepping foods

  3. Cook: To the right temperature for that product

  4. Cool: Cool properly and chill prepared foods immediately

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