Food-borne Illness

Do you suspect you have food poisoning?

Contact Southwestern Public Health at 1-800-922-0096 to report a complaint.

What is a food-borne illness?

Food-borne illness is caused by consuming food or water contaminated with harmful bacteria, viruses, parasites, toxins or chemicals.

The contaminated food that made you sick will not taste, look or smell different. Also, the symptoms may not appear immediately after you eat the contaminated food.

Some of the common symptoms of food-borne illness are:

  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Dehydration
  • Abdominal pain and cramping
  • Fever

Food-borne illness becomes a high risk for certain groups of people such as the elderly, pregnant women, infants, and people with weakened immune systems.

Food-borne illness can be caused due to improper food handling practices such as:

  • Lack of proper hand washing
  • Cross-contamination of raw and ready-to-eat food items
  • Improper cooking and reheating of food items
  • Improper cooling of hazardous food items
  • Improper defrosting of food items
  • Poor food handler hygiene
  • Food prepared by a sick food handler

Safe food handling practices (click on it will open the page for Food Safety at Home section) can prevent foodborne illness.

Characteristics of a food-borne illness

  • Food infection: eating food contaminated with large numbers of harmful bacteria. These bacteria can be easily killed with proper cooking temperatures.
    • Examples of bacteria that can cause food infection are:
      • Salmonella: found in the gut of humans, animals, turtles and poultry; incubation period* = 6 to 72 hours.
      • Clostridium perfringens: found in the animals, fish and poultry; incubation period* = 6 to 24 hours.
      • Shigella: found in the gut of humans; incubation period* = 12-96 hours.
      • Campylobacter: found in the gut of animals, pets, children and poultry; incubation period* = 1 to 10 days.
      • Escherichia coli (E-coli) O157:H7: found in the gut of humans and animals; incubation period* = 2 to 10 days
  • Food intoxication: eating food contaminated with harmful toxins which are produced by certain bacteria. These toxins can be heat resistant.
    • Examples of bacteria that can cause food intoxication are:
      • Staphylococcus aureus – found in the nose, throat, pimples and infected cuts of humans; incubation period* = 1 to 6 hours.
      • Clostridium Botulinum (fatal): found mainly in the soil and gut of animals and fish; incubation period* = 12 to 72 hours.

*Please note: Incubation Period is the time it takes for signs and symptoms to occur after an exposure to a pathogen.

  • Chemical poisoning - eating food contaminated with toxic agents
    • Examples of chemical poisoning are:
      • Wild berries and mushrooms found naturally in the food
      • Insecticides and cleaners: accidentally introduced during food preparation
      • Sulphites (preservatives in salad bars) used in excess
      • Monosodium glutamate (MSG): flavour enhancer used in excess


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