Foodborne Illness

It is important for you to know and practice safe food handling behaviors to help reduce your risk of accidentally getting sick from contaminated food. Foodborne illness, often called “food poisoning,” can be a source of many different kinds of bacteria. Spoilage bacteria cause food to go bad and it does not cause illness. Pathogenic bacteria are difficult to detect as you cannot taste, see or smell it. It can make you very sick. If foods are cooked at a safe temperature pathogens can be destroyed. Food can be contaminated when guidelines are not followed. 

There are numerous pathogens that can be transferred from animals to humans. These pathogens cause mild to severe symptoms and are a definite concern for producers and their families as well as consumers. While some of the pathogens are rare, their potential for devastating outcomes makes it necessary to take precautions for these pathogens seriously. Luckily, many of the precautions consumers can take to prevent diseases resulting from pathogens are the same.

  • Washing hands with soap after handling animals is the most important precaution. Soap should be readily available.
  • All meat should be cooked to appropriate internal temperatures. Ground beef should be cooked until reaching an internal temperature of 160°F, and all poultry should reach a minimum temperature of 165°F.
  • Raw meat and eggs should be handled as if they contain pathogens.
  • All surfaces and utensils used to prepare raw foods should be thoroughly washed with hot water and soap. Utensils used on raw foods should not be used later in the cooking or serving process.

The most common pathogens are:

Escherichia coli (E. coli)There are hundreds of strains of the bacteria Escherichia coli. These strains are commonly found in the intestines of healthy persons and animals. A particular strain, E. coli 0157:H7, also known as 0157, can cause severe illness and even death. Persons infected with this type of E. coli can develop severe diarrhea and painful abdominal cramps. For most, the illness subsides in 5 to 10 days. However, less than 10 percent of the infections can lead to a condition known as hemolytic uremic syndrome. Primary sources are undercooked ground beef and raw milk. The 0157 bacterium is present in the intestines of cattle, which can contaminate meat during slaughter. The bacteria are killed when meat is thoroughly cooked, but can survive in meat that is rare or inadequately cooked. Cook ground beef to an internal temperature of at least 160°F. Pasteurization kills bacteria in milk which may be present on the cow’s udders or in the milking equipment. Frequent hand washing with soap will prevent transmission. People at risk of severe consequences of infection are children under 5 and the elderly.

SalmonellaSalmonella is a group of bacteria that can cause diarrheal illness in humans. They are microscopic living creatures that pass from the feces of people or animals to other people or animals. Salmonella can contaminate foods, and it grows when foods are improperly handled or prepared. After consuming contaminated foods, serious intestinal problems may result. Outbreaks of salmonella have been traced to processed meats, undercooked poultry or poultry products, raw or lightly cooked foods containing egg or egg products (such as homemade ice cream), raw sausages, and unpasteurized milk and dairy products (including dried milk). Symptoms include fever, abdominal cramps, nausea and diarrhea 12 to 72 hours after infection, but symptoms may vary depending on the individual and amounts of contamination. The illness usually lasts 4 to 7 days, and most people recover without treatment. However, for some, the diarrhea may be so severe that hospitalization is required. A doctor or health care worker should determine if treatment is necessary. 

Listeriosis — Listeriosis is a food borne illness caused by the bacteria Listeria monocytogenes. It may cause few or no symptoms in healthy people, but it can cause serious illness in people with immune system problems, the elderly and pregnant women. People typically get listeriosis by eating food contaminated with the bacteria. Some types of soft cheeses, undercooked poultry, hot dogs not thoroughly reheated, foods from deli counters, and other ready-to-eat foods are responsible for most reported cases. Symptoms include fever, fatigue, nausea, vomiting and diarrhea. Although flu-like symptoms may occur 12 hours after eating contaminated food, it usually takes from 1 to 6 weeks for a serious case of listeriosis to develop.

Campylobacteriosis — Campylobacteriosis is a bacterial disease caused by consuming undercooked poultry or other meat, contaminated food, water or raw milk, or be in contact with infected animals. It is the most common bacterial cause of diarrheal illness in the United States. Most cases are associated with handling raw poultry or eating raw or undercooked poultry meat. Symptoms include diarrhea, cramping, abdominal pain and fever within 2 to 5 days after exposure to the organism. The illness typically lasts 1 week. In people with compromised immune systems, Campylobacter occasionally spreads to the bloodstream and causes a serious life-threatening infection.  Most people infected recover completely within 2 to 5 days, although sometimes recovery can take up to 10 days, although prolonged illnesses and relapses may occur in adults.

If you suspect any of these diseases on your farm or ranch, or you have questions about them, contact your veterinarian. If you suspect that you, one of your farm employees, or anyone in your family has any of these diseases, contact your physician immediately.

See Laboratory Sampling for sampling requirements. 

For more information, contact Division of Food Safety and Lodging.