Let’s Talk Food: Foodborne illnesses

The new U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report on the foodborne illnesses that struck most often in 2018 is as following:

Campylobacter is a bacteria often found in chicken, raw milk and water and is the No. 1 cause of bacterial foodborne illness since 2013. It is interesting that I have heard alot about E. coli and salmonella but never much about campylobacter. It is estimated that 2.1 million to 2.4 million cases of human campylobacteriosis occur each year, which is less than 1 percent of the population.


According to the CDC, “Some risk factors accounting for a smaller proportion of sporadic illnesses include drinking untreated water, traveling abroad, eating barbecued pork or sausage, drinking raw milk or milk from bird pecked bottles and contact with dogs and cats, particularly juvenile pets or pets with diarrhea. Person-to-person transmission is uncommon. Overlay is reported between serotypes of C. jejuni found in humans, poultry and cattle, indicating that foods of animal origin may play a major role in transmitting C. jejuni to humans.”

Campylobacter jejuni is one of the most common causes of gastroenteritis worldwide, according to Oxford University. The onset usually occurs 2-5 days after infection with the bacteria and can last up to 10 days. The most common symptoms are diarrhea, abdominal pains, fever, headache, nausea and/or vomiting.

Salmonellosis is No. 2, accounting for 28% of illnesses. According to Dr. Patricia Griffin, chief of the CDC’s Enteric Diseases Epidemiology Branch, “Salmonella is found in animal products such as pork, chicken and eggs, in addition to vegetables and fruits. The most common type of this bacteria that causes foodborne illness is Salmonella enteritidis, and infections have not declined over 10 years.” She claims salmonella causes more hospitalization and deaths than campylobacter.

Symptoms of salmonella usually begin 12-72 hours after consuming the bacteria and can last 4-7 days. They include diarrhea, fever and stomach cramps.

Vibrio vulnificus is a bacteria in shellfish, such as raw oysters, and is on the rise because of rising water temperatures. I couldn’t help but think of my friend, Clarysse, whose husband, Randy, posted on Facebook about their recent trip to Spain. She got very ill, eating raw shellfish, and needed to go to the hospital.

Vibrio vulnificus can cause acute gastroenteritis from eating raw or undercooked shellfish with vomiting, diarrhea and abdominal pain; necrotizing of wound infections in injured skin exposed to contaminated marine water. The bacteria enters the body through open wounds and can develop blistering dermatitis; and invasive sepsis after eating raw or undercooked shellfish.

There were 332 cases of the parasite cyclospora in 2018, an increase of 399% from 2015-2017, according to the CDC.

“People can develop the illness when they consume food or water contaminated with infected feces. Because cyclospora is more commonly found in tropical and subtropical parts of the world, outbreaks within the United States are mostly associated with produce imported from other countries,”

Escherichia coli (E. coli) bacteria naturally flourishes in the intestines of humans and animals.The strain that killed 22 Germans, STEC 014:H4, was particularly virulent and generated a toxin that caused kidney failure called hemolytic uremic syndrome. On the list of suspects of this outbreak was bean sprouts.

Eating undercooked ground beef or raw vegetables irrigated with contaminated water could cause one to get E. coli, which can travel from person to person, especially when those infected do not wash their hands. To prevent contracting E. coli, avoid unpasteurized milk, juice and cider and undercooked burgers.

Hamburgers should be well done, at least 160 degrees at the center of the burger. If the center is pink, continue to cook it until done. Wash vegetables, especially lettuce and spinach, to reduce the amount of bacteria clinging to dirt particles.

Also wash utensils, countertops and cutting boards before and after they come into contact with fresh product or raw meat.

Good hand-washing habits also are important.

When taking children to a petting zoo, be sure to have them wash their hands after visiting the animals.

Symptoms of E. coli infection begin 3-4 days after eating the contaminated food. The most common symptom is diarrhea that is sudden, severe and sometimes bloody. Other symptoms include abdominal cramping and pain, vomiting and fever.

A relatively rare disease, and not on the CDC list, listeriosis is an infection caused by eating food contaminated with the listeria bacteria.

As of 2019, there are 20 known species. Improperly processed hot dogs and deli meats are often the culprit. Even if you refrigerate or freeze them, the bacteria can still grow. Healthy people usually don’t get sick from listeria, but those with a weak immune system are prone to it.

You should avoid unprocessed foods and be sure to wash your hands every chance you get to avoid being exposed.


The good news is that the CDC report shows there has been progress in battling foodborne disease, with the US Food and Drug Administration implementing routine inspections of large produce farms and providing assistance to the produce industry to help outbreak investigations and prevent contamination. On the state level, we have the Department of Agriculture and the Department of Health to protect us from foodborne illnesses.

Email Audrey Wilson at audreywilson808@gmail.com.

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