Foodborne illness or “food poisoning” is a common, costly—yet preventable—public health problem. Each year, 1 in 6 Americans gets sick by consuming contaminated foods or beverage and 3,000 people die of foodborne diseases.
Most of these illnesses are from infections caused by a variety of bacteria, viruses, and parasites that can be foodborne. Other diseases are poisonings, caused by harmful toxins or chemicals that have contaminated the food.
Symptoms of food poisoning can range from mild to severe and include upset stomach, abdominal cramps, nausea and vomiting, diarrhea, fever, and dehydration. Most people ill recover without any lasting effects from their illness. For some, however, the effects can be devastating and even deadly.
If you think you have food poisoning or an allergic reaction to food, call a doctor. If it’s an emergency, call 911.
If you believe you or someone you know became ill from eating a certain food, contact the Department of Health at (260) 449-7562 so that we may investigate.
Below you will find more information on foodborne illness, ways to reduce your risk and other helpful resources.
Causes of Foodborne Illness
More than 250 pathogens and toxins are known to cause foodborne illness, but the germs (and some foods) responsible for most foodborne illness include (click on the tab to learn more):
What is it? Campylobacteriosis is an infectious disease caused by bacteria of the genus Campylobacter.
Symptoms? Most people who become ill with campylobacteriosis get diarrhea, cramping, abdominal pain, and fever within two to five days after exposure to the organism. The diarrhea may be bloody and can be accompanied by nausea and vomiting. The illness typically lasts about one week. Some infected persons do not have any symptoms. In persons with compromised immune systems, Campylobacter occasionally spreads to the bloodstream and causes a serious life-threatening infection.
How do infections occur? Most cases of campylobacteriosis are associated with eating raw or undercooked poultry meat or from cross-contamination of other foods by these items. Outbreaks of Campylobacter have most often been associated with unpasteurized dairy products, contaminated water, poultry, and produce. Animals can also be infected, and some people get infected from contact with the stool of an ill dog or cat. The organism is not usually spread from one person to another, but this can happen if the infected person is producing a large volume of diarrhea. It only takes a very few Campylobacter organisms (fewer than 500) to make a person sick. Even one drop of juice from raw chicken meat can have enough Campylobacter in it to infect a person,
How is it treated? Almost all persons infected with Campylobacter recover without any specific treatment. Patients should drink extra fluids as long as the diarrhea lasts. Antimicrobial therapy is warranted only for patients with severe disease or those at high risk for severe disease, such as those with immune systems severely weakened from medications or other illnesses.
Learn more about Campylobacter.
What is it? Escherichia coli (abbreviated as E. coli) are a large and diverse group of bacteria. Although most strains of E. coli are harmless, others like E.coli 0157 can make you sick. Some kinds of E. coli can cause diarrhea, while others cause urinary tract infections, respiratory illness and pneumonia, and other illnesses. Still other kinds of E. coli are used as markers for water contamination—so you might hear about E. coli being found in drinking water, which are not themselves harmful, but indicate the water is contaminated.
Symptoms? Symptoms vary for each person but often include severe stomach cramps, diarrhea (often bloody), and vomiting. If there is fever, it usually is not very high (less than 101˚F/less than 38.5˚C). Most people get better within 5–7 days. Some infections are very mild, but others are severe or even life-threatening.
How do these infections occur? Infections start when you swallow the bacteria—in other words, when you get tiny (usually invisible) amounts of human or animal feces in your mouth. Unfortunately, this happens more often than we would like to think about. Exposures that result in illness include consumption of contaminated food, consumption of unpasteurized (raw) milk, consumption of water that has not been disinfected, contact with cattle, or contact with the feces of infected people. Some foods are considered to carry such a high risk of infection with E. coli O157 or another germ that health officials recommend that people avoid them completely. These foods include unpasteurized (raw) milk, unpasteurized apple cider, and soft cheeses made from raw milk.
Sometimes the contact is pretty obvious (working with cows at a dairy or changing diapers, for example), but sometimes it is not (like eating an undercooked hamburger or a contaminated piece of lettuce). People have gotten infected by swallowing lake water while swimming, touching the environment in petting zoos and other animal exhibits, and by eating food prepared by people who did not wash their hands well after using the toilet. Almost everyone has some risk of infection.
How is it treated? Non-specific supportive therapy, including hydration, is important. Antibiotics should not be used to treat this infection and may increase the risk of HUS. Antidiarrheal agents like Imodium® may also increase that risk.
Learn more about Escherichia coli
What is it? Listeriosis, a serious infection usually caused by eating food contaminated with the bacterium Listeria monocytogenes.
Symptoms? A person with listeriosis usually has fever and muscle aches, sometimes preceded by diarrhea or other gastrointestinal symptoms. Some people also experience stiff neck, confusion, loss of balance and convulsions. Pregnant women typically experience fever and other non-specific symptoms, such as fatigue and aches. However, infections during pregnancy can lead to miscarriage, stillbirth, premature delivery, or life-threatening infection of the newborn.
How do these infections occur? Most human infections follow consumption of contaminated food. Rare cases of hospital-acquired transmission have been reported in newborns. When Listeria bacteria get into a food processing factory, they can live there for years, sometimes contaminating food products. Listeria are killed by cooking and pasteurization. However, in some ready-to-eat meats, such as hot dogs and deli meats, contamination may occur after factory cooking but before packaging or even at the deli counter. Also, be aware that Mexican-style cheeses (such as queso fresco) made from pasteurized milk and likely contaminated during cheese-making have caused Listeria infections. Unlike most bacteria, Listeria can grow and multiply in some foods in the refrigerator.
How is it treated? Listeriosis is treated with antibiotics. A person in a higher-risk category (pregnant woman, older adults, and people with weakened immune systems) who experiences fever and other non-specific symptoms, such as fatigue and aches, within 2 months of eating contaminated food should seek medical care and tell the physician or health care provider about eating the contaminated food.If a person has eaten food contaminated with Listeria and does not have any symptoms, most experts believe that no tests or treatment are needed, even for persons at higher risk for listeriosis.
Learn more about Listeria.
What is it? Salmonellosis is an infection with bacteria called Salmonella.
Symptoms? Most persons infected with Salmonella develop diarrhea, fever, and abdominal cramps 12 to 72 hours after infection. The illness usually lasts 4 to 7 days, and most persons recover without treatment. However, in some persons, the diarrhea may be so severe that the patient needs to be hospitalized. The elderly, infants, and those with impaired immune systems are more likely to have a severe illness.
How do these infections occur? Usually from contaminated food, water, or contact with infected animals. Because thorough cooking kills Salmonella, people should not eat raw or undercooked eggs, poultry, or meat. Persons also should not consume raw or unpasteurized milk or other dairy products. Produce should be thoroughly washed. Food may also become contaminated by the hands of an infected food handler who did not wash hands with soap after using the bathroom. Salmonella may also be found in the feces of some pets, especially those with diarrhea, and people can become infected if they do not wash their hands after contact with pets or pet feces.
How is it treated? Salmonella gastrointestinal infections usually resolve in 5-7 days and most do not require treatment other than oral fluids. Persons with severe diarrhea may require rehydration with intravenous fluids. Antibiotic therapy is recommended only for patients with severe illness (e.g., those with severe diarrhea, high fever, bloodstream infection, or who need hospitalization) or those at risk of severe disease or complications, including young infants, older adults (over 65 years old) and immunocompromised persons.
Learn more about Salmonella.
What is it? Vibrios are gram-negative, rod-shaped bacteria that occur naturally in estuarine or marine environments. Roughly a dozen species are known to cause disease in humans.
Symptoms? Vibriosis is characterized by diarrhea, primary septicemia, wound infections, or other extraintestinal infections.
How do these infections occur? Infection is usually from exposure to seawater or consumption of raw or undercooked seafood. Some illnesses can occur from exposing an open wound to contaminated seawater.
How is it treated? Treatment is not necessary in many cases. Patients should drink plenty of liquids to replace fluids lost through diarrhea. In severe or prolonged illnesses, antibiotics can be used.
Learn more about Vibrios.
What is it? Norovirus is a virus that causes inflammation of the stomach or intestines, also called acute gastroenteritis.
Symptoms? The most common symptoms include diarrhea, vomiting, nausea and stomach pain. Other symptoms can include fever, headache and body aches. Most people with norovirus illness get better within 1 to 3 days. But excessive vomiting and diarrhea can lead to dehydration, especially in young children, older adults, and people with other illnesses.
How do these infections occur? You can get it from contact with an infected person (for example, caring for or sharing food or eating utensils with someone with norovirus illness) through eating or drinking contaminated food or water, or by touching contaminated surfaces. Norovirus can spread quickly in closed places like daycare centers, nursing homes, schools, and cruise ships. Most norovirus outbreaks happen from November to April in the United States.
How is it treated? There is no specific medicine to treat people with norovirus illness. Norovirus infection cannot be treated with antibiotics because it is a viral (not a bacterial) infection. To prevent dehydration, patients should drink plenty of liquids to replace fluid lost from throwing up and diarrhea.
Learn more about Norovirus.
What is it? A single-celled parasite called Toxoplasma gondii that causes a disease known as toxoplasmosis.
Symptoms? Most people who become infected with Toxoplasma gondii are not aware of it. Some people who have toxoplasmosis may feel as if they have the “flu” with swollen lymph glands or muscle aches and pains that last for a month or more. Severe toxoplasmosis, causing damage to the brain, eyes, or other organs, can develop from an acute Toxoplasma infection or one that had occurred earlier in life and is now reactivated.
How do infections occur? From eating undercooked, contaminated meat (especially pork, lamb, and venison) or drinking contaminated water. You can also get toxoplasmosis from contact with cat feces.
How is it treated? In an otherwise healthy person who is not pregnant, treatment usually is not needed. If symptoms occur, they typically go away within a few weeks to months. For pregnant women or persons who have weakened immune systems, medications are available to treat toxoplasmosis.
Learn more about Toxoplasma.
Many microbes can spread in more than one way, so it’s not always clear if a disease is foodborne. For example E.coli 0157 infections can spread through contaminated food, contaminated drinking water, contaminated swimming water, and from toddler to toddler at a day care center.
Some foods, such as nuts, milk, eggs, or seafood, can also cause allergic reactions in people with food allergies.
Signs of Foodborne Illness
Different diseases have different symptoms. However, the microbe or toxin enters the body through the gastrointestinal tract so the first symptoms are usually nausea, vomiting, abdominal cramps and diarrhea. Other symptoms can include dehydration, fever or chills, muscles aches or fatigue.
Depending on the bacterial, viral or chemical agent responsible for illness, symptoms may begin in as little as one half hour to several weeks.
Preventing Foodborne Illness
Following a few simple steps can help keep your family safer from food poisoning at home. Click on each step to find out more:
Wash hands and food preparation surfaces often. Illness-causing bacteria can survive in many places around your kitchen, including your hands, utensils, and cutting boards. Clean utensils and small cutting boards with hot, soapy water and other surfaces with a bleach solution. And wash fresh fruits and vegetables carefully before cutting or peeling.
Don’t cross-contaminate! When handling raw meat, poultry, seafood and eggs, keep these foods and their juices away from ready-to-eat foods. Use separate cutting boards, plates and utensils for raw and ready-to eat foods and keep those food separate in the refrigerator.
Make sure food reaches its proper temperature. For example, internal temperatures should be 145°F for whole meats (allowing the meat to rest for 3 minutes before carving or eating), 160°F for ground meats, and 165°F for all poultry. See the Minimum Cooking Temperatures chart for more info on cooking meats, poultry, eggs, leftovers, and casseroles.
At room temperature, bacteria in food can double every 20 minutes. The more bacteria there are, the greater the chance you could become sick. So, refrigerate foods quickly because cold temperatures keep most harmful bacteria from multiplying. Thaw or marinate foods in the refrigerator, never on the counter or in the kitchen sink. And know when to throw food out.
Reporting Foodborne Illness
If you believe you or someone you know became ill from eating a certain food product, it’s important that you contact the Department of Health. Reporting illnesses helps us identify potential outbreaks of foodborne disease so more people do not get sick and helps us prevent similar outbreaks from happening in the future.
In public health investigations, your cooperation is important. Be willing to be interviewed about the foods you ate before you got sick; share your store receipts and give permission for stores to share the list of food you purchased from their store; and allow health department staff to collect any leftover food you may have.
Some questions to consider when making an illness complaint:
- Did any of the food items look, smell or taste funny?
- Did anyone else from your party become ill?
- How long after you ate did you become ill? Most people tend to blame illness on the last place they ate. Foodborne illness can occur anywhere from 6 to 72 hours depending on the type of infectious agent.
- Do you still have any food samples left? In some cases, we have the ability to send food samples to the Indiana State Department of Health for further analysis.
- Did you attend some sort of an event or gathering that could possibly be the source of the illness versus a food establishment?
To report a suspected foodborne illness, call the Food & Consumer Protection Division at (260) 449-7562 or email to email@example.com.
Food Establishment Complaints
The Department of Health investigates general complaints about sanitation or unsafe food handling practices in food service establishments. We make every effort to respond to complaints within 1 business day of receiving the complaint.
If you wish to make a complaint, please call us at (260) 449-7562 or submit it to us online via our Complaint Portal.
Be sure to provide as much information as possible, including the name and location of the establishment, day and time of visit, and the nature of the complaint (employee did not wash hands, foreign object in your food, improperly cooked or handled food, cleanliness or sanitation issues).
For more information, visit our Retail Food Establishment page.
- CDC Food Safety Page
- U.S. Department of Agriculture Food Safety and Inspection Service (USDA)
- U.S. Food & Drug Administration (FDA)
- ISDH Food Protection
Information for Home-Based Vendors
General Food Safety Guidelines
- Online Food Safety Quiz (LA DOH)
- Food Safety and Food Security: What Consumers Need to Know [En Español] (USDA)
- Consumer Advisory: Raw or Undercooked Foods (ISDH)
- Foodborne Illness A-Z (CDC)
- Foodborne Illness: What You Need to Know (FDA)
- The Not-So-Fun Times After the Fun (DOH)
Below are notices of recalls, market withdrawals and alerts from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) and the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC). Click the title of a recall to display the recall notice.
If the product details in the recall notice match the details on the food product you have at home, do not open or consume the product. Instead, do one of the following:
- Return the product to the place of purchase for a refund.
- Dispose of the product following the instructions provided in the recall notice to assure it will not be consumed by anyone.