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Food illness: The usual suspects

Bacteria are often behind cases of foodborne illness.

There are more than 250 types of food-related illnesses. Most of them are infections that can be traced back to bacteria, viruses and parasites, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

Food illness can be mild or quite dangerous. It's more likely to be serious in children, the elderly or people who are already ill, according to the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.

Beware of these

Here's a list of some of the hardest hitters in the foodborne illness lineup:

Salmonella. Salmonella bacteria can be found in raw meats, poultry, eggs, unpasteurized milk and just about any other animal product, as well as fruits and vegetables, seafood, sprouts and raw flour. Symptoms of Salmonella illness usually start six hours to six days after eating the contaminated food, according to the CDC. They include stomach cramps, diarrhea, and fever. Most people get better without antibiotic treatment in four to seven days, according to the CDC.

E. coli. E. coli poisoning often comes from undercooked ground beef. But the bacteria can also be passed from person to person by unwashed hands or by swimming in water that's been contaminated with sewage. Symptoms include severe bloody diarrhea and stomach cramps. The illness usually goes away without treatment in five to seven days, according to the CDC.

Botulism. The bacteria that cause this disease are often found in improperly canned foods, especially home-canned vegetables. Botulism poisoning doesn't occur very often, but it can be deadly. Symptoms usually occur 18 to 36 hours after eating, according to the CDC. They include double vision, difficulty speaking, and difficulty swallowing and breathing. If you have symptoms of botulism, get treatment right away.

Other culprits

Other common food illnesses include:

Giardia. These bacteria usually live in contaminated water but they can also live in uncooked foods. Symptoms include diarrhea, abdominal pain, flatulence and nausea.

Clostridium perfringens. These bacteria often become dangerous when cooked food, such as meat, is not cooled and stored properly. Clostridium perfringens is sometimes called the "cafeteria germ" because it's often found in foods left for long periods of time at room temperature or on improperly maintained steam tables. Symptoms of clostridium perfringens poisoning include abdominal pain, diarrhea and nausea.

Staphylococcus (Staph). Staph bacteria are often carried by humans in the nose and throat, and in skin infections, according to the academy. And they aren't easily killed during cooking. For that reason, it's especially important to practice good personal hygiene when working in the kitchen. Symptoms of staph are sudden nausea, vomiting and stomach cramps—and usually diarrhea—and last up to one day, according to the CDC.

Staying healthy

To protect yourself from the bacteria that cause foodborne illness, be sure to prepare and store all foods safely. That means washing your hands and preparation surfaces often, cooking meats and eggs thoroughly, keeping raw meats and eggs separate from other foods, keeping raw foods refrigerated, and refrigerating leftovers promptly.

Reviewed 7/27/2021

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