Bacteria and Food Poisoning

Campylobacter is a bacterium that causes food poisoning resulting in : diarrhea, enteritis, high temperature and abdominal pain. Optical microscope. BSIP/UIG/ Universal Images Group/ Getty Images

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that around 80 million people a year in the U.S. alone contract food poisoning or other foodborne diseases.

Foodborne illness is caused by eating or drinking food that contains disease causing agents. The most common causes of foodborne diseases are bacteria, viruses, and parasites. Foods containing toxic chemicals can cause foodborne diseases as well.

Typically, our immune system fights off germs to prevent illness. However, some bacteria and viruses have developed ways of avoiding immune system defenses and causing sickness. These germs release proteins that help them avoid detection by white blood cells. In addition, antibiotic-resistant bacteria have become increasingly prevalent and a worldwide public health issue. Strains of resistant E. coli and MRSA have become increasingly proficient at causing infection and avoiding immune defenses. These germs can survive on everyday objects and cause disease.

There are over two hundred types of bacteria, viruses, and parasites that can cause foodborne diseases. Reactions to these germs can range from mild gastric and digestive system discomfort to death. The easiest way to prevent foodborne illness is to properly handle and cook foods. This includes washing and drying your hands, washing utensils carefully, replacing kitchen sponges often, and cooking meat thoroughly.

Below is a list of a few bacteria that cause foodborne diseases, along with the foods that are associated with them, as well as symptoms that are likely to develop from ingesting the contaminated foods.

Bacteria That Cause Foodborne Illness

  • Microbe - Aeromonas hydrophila
  • Affiliated Foods - Fish, Shellfish, Beef, Pork, Lamb, and Poultry
  • Diseases - Gastroenteritis, Septicemia
  • Symptoms - Diarrhea, Blood and Mucus in Stool


  • Microbe - Bacillus cereu
  • Affiliated Foods - Meats, Milk, Rice, Potato, and Cheese Products
  • Diseases - B. cereus Food Poisoning
  • Symptoms - Diarrhea, Abdominal Cramps, Nausea


  • Microbe - Campylobacter jejuni
  • Affiliated Foods - Raw Chicken, Unpasteurized Milk, Non-chlorinated Water
  • Diseases - B. cereus Campylobacteriosis
  • Symptoms - Diarrhea, Abdominal Cramps, Nausea and Fever, Headache and Muscle Pain


  • Microbe - Clostridium botulinum
  • Affiliated Foods - Canned Foods Including: Vegetables, Meats, and Soups
  • Diseases - Foodborne Botulism
  • Symptoms - Weakness, Double Vision and Vertigo, Difficulty in Speaking, Swallowing, and Breathing, Constipation


  • Microbe - Clostridium perfringens
  • Affiliated Foods - Non-refrigerated Prepared Foods: Meats and Meat Products, Gravy
  • Diseases - Perfringens Food Poisoning
  • Symptoms - Severe Abdominal Cramps, Diarrhea


  • Microbe - Escherichia coli O157:H7
  • Affiliated Foods - Undercooked Meats, Raw Ground Beef
  • Diseases - Hemorrhagic colitis
  • Symptoms - Severe Abdominal Pain, Watery and Bloody Diarrhea, Vomiting


  • Microbe - Listeria monocytogenes
  • Affiliated Foods - Dairy Products, Raw Vegetables, Raw Meats, Smoked Fish
  • Diseases - Listeriosis
  • Symptoms - Flu-like Symptoms, Persistent Fever, Nausea and Vomiting, Diarrhea


  • Microbe - Salmonella spp.
  • Affiliated Foods - Poultry and Eggs, Milk and Dairy Products, Raw Meats, Fish, Shrimp, Peanut Butter
  • Diseases - Salmonellosis
  • Symptoms - Nausea, Vomiting, Abdominal Pain, Fever, Headache, Diarrhea


  • Microbe - Shigella spp
  • Affiliated Foods - Poultry, Milk and Dairy Products, Raw Vegetables, Fecally contaminated water, Salads: Potato, Chicken, Tuna, Shrimp
  • Diseases - Shigellosis
  • Symptoms - Diarrhea, Abdominal Pain, Fever, Vomiting, Blood or Mucus in Stool


  • Microbe - Staphylococcus aureus
  • Affiliated Foods - Poultry and Egg Products, Meat Products, Dairy Products
  • Diseases - Staphyloenterotoxicosis, Staphyloenterotoxemia
  • Symptoms - Abdominal Cramping, Nausea and Vomiting, Prostration


  • Microbe - Vibrio cholerae
  • Affiliated Foods - Contaminated Water, Shellfish
  • Diseases - Cholera
  • Symptoms - Watery Diarrhea, Abdominal Pain, Dehydration, Vomiting, Shock

For additional information on bacteria, food poisoning, and foodborne diseases, take a look at the Bad Bug Book. Again, the single most important thing you can do to prevent foodborne illness is to keep your environment clean when preparing food. This includes washing your hands with soap and water and sanitizing utensils and counter tops. In addition, it is vital that you cook meats thoroughly to ensure that germs are killed.