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Germs that Cause Food Poisoning

Bacteria and viruses are the most common sources of food poisoning. The organisms can be present in the food before it is even prepared, or can pass from the food handler to the customer due to poor personal hygiene or unsafe practices. The following table lists the most common organisms responsible for food poisoning in the United States, the foods in which they are found and ways to prevent an outbreak in your establishment:

Common Name
Affected Foods

Preventative Measures

Did You Know?

Botulism
Canned and vacuum-packaged foods.


  • Discard swollen cans.
  • Bring food temperature to at least 140 °F to kill any bacteria that may be present.
An average of 145 cases of Botulism are reported each year. Of those cases, approximately 3-5% prove fatal.1
Campylo- bacter
Undercooked meat, poultry, shellfish and raw milk.


  • Wash hands after handling raw meats.
  • Cook all foods to the proper internal temperature.

Campylobacter is responsible for approximately 2.4 million cases of food poisoning and 124 deaths each year. 2
E. Coli
Raw vegetables, unpasteurized fruit juice and undercooked ground beef.







  • Wash all produce prior to serving.
  • Cook ground beef to a minimum internal temperature of 160 °F.







According to 2007 figures, the average cost of an E. Coli infection is:
  • $516 per case if the person visits a physician.
  • $6,922 per case if the person is hospitalized.
  • $4.5 million per case if the person is hospitalized and dies. 3
Hepatitis A
Raw shellfish or any other food that is handled by someone with dirty hands.

Follow proper handwashing practices to prevent person-to-person transmission. Learn More


Though most cases go unreported, the CDC estimates that Hepatitis A accounts for 263,000 cases of food poisoning each year. 4
Listeria
Ready-to-eat and processed meats, soft cheeses and unpasteurized milk.
Good personal hygiene practices and equipment cleaning and sanitizing will reduce the risk of contamination.

There are an estimated 2,500 cases of listeriosis in the U.S. each year, 500 of which are fatal. 5

Norovirus
Any food or surface that has been contaminated. Person-to-person transmission is also very easy.
  • Enforce proper hand washing and surface sanitization practices.
  • Send employees with the stomach flu home.


Norovirus is often referred to as the stomach flu and is very easy to catch. It only takes 100 microbes to infect a person. 6

Salmonella
Undercooked chicken, raw vegetables and eggs.










  • Make sure all products reach the proper minimum internal temperature when cooking.
  • Properly wash all produce. Learn More







According to 2007 figures, the average cost of a Salmonella infection is:
  • $512 per case if the person visits a physician.
  • $10,412 per case if the person is hospitalized.
  • $5.4 million per case if the person is hospitalized and dies. 7
Shigellosis
Raw produce and salads that require a lot of preparation like potato and tuna salad.
Strictly enforce good personal hygiene among workers.



The CDC estimates that as many as 280,000 cases of Shigellosis occur every year. Only about 5% are actually reported. 8
Staph Infection
Pastries, sandwiches and other foods that require a lot of handling for preparation.
  • Follow proper hand washing procedures.
  • Do not let workers prepare foods if they have nasal and eye infections.
One-in-four healthy individuals have the bacteria responsible for staph infections on their skin or in their nose. 9 So it is very easy to transmit to others and cause sickness.
1Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, “Botulism,” http://www.cdc.gov/nczved/dfbmd/disease_listing/botulism_gi.html (accessed October 16, 2008).
2Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, “Campylobacter,” http://www.cdc.gov/nczved/dfbmd/disease_listing/campylobacter_gi.html (accessed October 16, 2008).
3United States Department of Agriculture, “Foodborne Illness Cost Calculator: STEC 0157,” http://www.ers.usda.gov/Data/FoodborneIllness/ecoli_Intro.asp (accessed October 16, 2008).
4Donald Wade, Successful Restaurant Management: From Vision to Execution (Clifton Park, NY: Thomson Delmar Learning, 2006): 167.
5Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, “Listeriosis,” http://www.cdc.gov/nczved/dfbmd/disease_listing/listeriosis_gi.html (accessed October 16, 2008).
6Donald Wade, Successful Restaurant Management: From Vision to Execution (Clifton Park, NY: Thomson Delmar Learning, 2006): 168.
7United States Department of Agriculture, “Foodborne Illness Cost Calculator: Salmonella,” http://www.ers.usda.gov/Data/FoodborneIllness/salm_Intro.asp (accessed October 16, 2008).
8Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, “Shigellosis,” http://www.cdc.gov/nczved/dfbmd/disease_listing/shigellosis_gi.html (accessed October 16, 2008).
9Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, “Staphylococcal Food Poisoning,” http://www.cdc.gov/ncidod/dbmd/diseaseinfo/staphylococcus_food_g.htm (accessed October 16, 2008).

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