5 common culprits of foodborne illness

food poisoning If you become ill from food, you may spend 24 hours in the bathroom with vomiting and/or diarrhea. But foodborne illness is more than just unpleasant — it can pose a dangerous threat to health, especially for the very young, elderly and those with weakened immune systems. Health experts continue to investigate two groups of foodborne illness: major pathogens (known sources) and unspecified agents (unknown sources). Consider the following:

  • 48 million cases of foodborne illness annually in the U.S.
  • 9.4 million caused by major pathogens
  • 38.4 million caused by unspecified agents
  • 1 in 6 Americans gets food poisoning every year

Protect your health

  • Learn more about safe cooking and food handling practices at
  • Check for food safety recalls and sign up for automatic alerts at
  • Call your provider if you have questions or concerns about foodborne illness symptoms.
  • If you believe you became ill from food, contact your local county or city health department to report the illness. To find out how to reach your local health department, visit

5 common culprits



Food sources

Clostridium perfringens

Usually 24 hours

Meats, poultry, gravy, dried or precooked foods; foods that are undercooked or improperly stored/reheated

E. coli

3 to 7 or more days

Water or food contaminated with human feces



Unpasteurized milk, soft cheeses made with unpasteurized milk, ready-to-eat deli meats


12 to 60 hours

Raw produce, contaminated drinking water, uncooked foods, foods contaminated by food handler, shellfish from contaminated waters


4 to 7 days

Eggs, poultry, meat, unpasteurized milk or juice, cheese, contaminated raw fruit and vegetables

* Note: Infection with listeria is particularly dangerous for pregnant women, the elderly and those with weak immune systems.

Sources: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and U.S. Food and Drug Administration.