Foodborne Illness

Food Safety September 13, 2011 Print Friendly and PDF

What is a foodborne illness? The next time you experience symptoms like nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, or fever, you may want to consider a foodborne illness as the culprit. While these relatively mild symptoms may seem like the 24 hour stomach flu, some foodborne illnesses can be very serious, even causing death.

Most foodborne illness is caused when food is contaminated with bacteria or viruses. When conditions are right, bacteria can grow and multiply.

While it's easy to blame food service establishments for foodborne illness, millions of people become ill each year as a result of handling food at home improperly. Most foodborne illness is caused by time-temperature abuse, cross contamination, and poor personal hygiene. You can prevent illness at home by

  • keeping hot foods hot – 140 degree or more
  • keeping cold foods cold – 40 degrees or below
  • reheating leftovers to 165 degrees
  • cleaning and sanitizing food contact surfaces, and
  • washing your hands frequently.

This information is based on the audio program by Susie Craig and WSU Extension, "Food Safety in a Minute." For more podcasts visit the Food Safety in a Minute site.

Visit the pathogens page for more information about the bacteria, viruses, and parasites that make us sick.


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This work is supported by the USDA National Institute of Food and Agriculture, New Technologies for Ag Extension project.