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Four Types of Food Poisoning and Common Causes

Updated on September 23, 2012

Copyright 2012 - Kris Heeter, Ph.D. (reposting, copying, or reprinting this article in part or in full elsewhere online or offline is prohibited).

Food poisoning occurs when food or water that has been contaminated with certain types of bacteria, parasites, viruses, or toxins has been ingested.

While there are many different bacteria, viruses, toxins and parasites that can cause poisoning, there are four types of bacterial food poisoning that are the most well known.

Each year, outbreaks of E. coli, Salmonella, and Listeria in food sources are reported. Boutulism also occurs in the United States, but it is less common.

E. coli Food Poisoning

Escherichia coli (E. coli) normally lives in the human intestinal system (and in other animals) and is necessary for the body to function properly.

However, there are certain strains of E. coli normally not found in humans that can cause food poisoning (e.g., E. coli strain O157:H7).

Dangerous strains of E. coli that cause poisoning can come from:

  • Raw fish or oysters
  • Raw dairy products
  • Raw vegetable or fruit juices
  • Undercooked meat (beef is common)
  • Undercooked eggs
  • Refrigerated or frozen foods stored at improper temperatures
  • Water (improperly treated)

The most common symptom is sudden onset of diarrhea.

Symptoms of E. coli food poisoning can include:

  • Abdominal cramping
  • Chills (fever)
  • Gas
  • Nausea or vomiting

Severe food poisoning by E. coli can include:

  • Blood in the urine
  • Reduced urine
  • Pale skin
  • Easy bruising
  • Black stools (blood in stool)


Salmonella Food Poisoning

Salmonella poisoning is caused by the bacterium Salmonella.

There are nearly a thousand different species and strains of Salmonella, many of which can cause food poisoning. One example is Salmonella enterica and it is one of the most common forms of food poisoning in the United States.

There are 100,000+ cases of Salmonella poisoning each year in the United States.

The most common types of food contaminated with Salmonella include:

  • Turkey
  • Chicken
  • Eggs

Cooking poultry and eggs thoroughly can kill Salmonella.

Symptoms of Salmonella food poisoning can include:

  • Abdominal pain or cramping
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Chills (fever)
  • Diarrhea
  • Muscle Pain

Note: snakes, lizards, turtles, and other reptiles are carriers of Salmonella. Handling reptiles without washing hands prior to eating can lead to Salmonella poisoning.


Botulism Food Poisoning

Botulism is caused by the bacterium Clostridium botulinum. It is more rare in the U.S. with only 110 cases occurring each year on average. Most cases occur in infants.

Clostridium can live in improperly canned or preserved food. Clostridum produce bacterial spores that survive in improperly preserved or canned food

Foods that can be contaminated are:

  • Home-canned vegetables
  • Cured pork, including ham
  • Smoked fish
  • Raw fish
  • Honey
  • Corn syrup

Boutulism food poisoning symptoms can include:

  • Abdominal cramping
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Dry mouth
  • Double vision
  • Respiratory and breathing problems
  • Difficulty speaking
  • Difficulty swallowing
  • Body Weakness
  • Paralysis

Listeria Food Poisoning

Lysteria monocytogenes is the most common species of Listeria that can cause food poisoning.

Common sources of Listeria food poisoning include:

  • Processed deli meats (improperly stored)
  • Unpasteurized dairy products
  • Fresh produce like melons, salad greens, and more

In rare cases, Listeria can contaminate other foods like fruits and vegetables when those foods are processed in packing plants that have sanitation problems.

Symptoms of Listeria food poisoning can include:

  • Diarrhea
  • Nausea
  • Chills (fever)
  • Muscle Aches

If listeria persists and spreads, symptoms can include:

  • Loss of balance
  • Headaches
  • Stiff neck
  • Confusion
  • Convulsions

Lysteria infections can be most serious for pregnant mothers and newborn babies. Miscarriage and stillbirth can occur when pregnant mothers are infected.

Related Article

10 Surprising Food Poisoning Food Statistics and Discoveries- Food poisoning causes billions of dollars in health care costs each year. The frequency of occurrence and the number of different bacteria, viruses and parasites that can cause it might surprise you. Research indicates that new mutant bacterial strains that can cause foodborne illness are appearing and these can be up to 100 times more dangerous!

Food Poisoning Prevention

It is estimated that there are more than 100,000 different types of foodborne pathogens that can cause illness. According to U.S. government statistics, 1 in 6 Americans will get sick from food poisoning each year.

Many of these cases can be avoided if every person followed some simple guidelines while purchasing, preparing, and/or eating food out: 5 Ways to Prevent Food Poisoning and Safety Tips

Outbreaks of food poisoning and recalled products can be tracked through updates provided by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC).


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    • alocsin profile image

      alocsin 6 years ago from Orange County, CA

      Yikes, more things to worry about. I suspect, though that groceries and restaurants do their best to prevent these from happening. Can't say the same about myself however. Voting this Up and Interesting.

    • Lawrence Da-vid profile image

      Lawrence Da-vid 6 years ago

      Kris! This food was from a restaurant that hundreds of close by businesses used for meals. My ailment brought city health department attention to it. 2 cooks had active infectious hepatitis (a) Unknown is if there were any "suits" against that restaurant......I do know, I went to mcdonalds after that.

    • Kris Heeter profile image

      Kris Heeter 6 years ago from Indiana

      @Lawrence Da-vid - thanks for adding to the discussion! Catching hepatitis from food is a scary prospect. It's one of those things I think most people only seem to worry about when traveling abroad rather than close to home and that's not always a safe assumption. I'm glad you are doing alright now and I'm glad the inspectors found the source!

    • Lawrence Da-vid profile image

      Lawrence Da-vid 6 years ago

      Many years ago, I turned yellow, even whites of eyes were yellow, plumbing turned a different shade and I was diagnosed with Hep "A" by my doctor. This report was accompanied by a thorough disclosure of establishments I had eaten food from, along with my home. Fortunately, outside meals consumed were from one source in a neighboring city. City inspectors checked personnel and found that 2 cooks were indeed positive for Hep "A". After 3 weeks of inactivity and a weird diet, I returned to normal a few pounds lighter and much wiser. So! not only food poisoning from outside and home sources is possible, but other far worse diseases. Regardless, outstanding information needed by all. Thank you.

    • Kris Heeter profile image

      Kris Heeter 6 years ago from Indiana

      @teaches12345 - thanks for stopping by! Salad dressing is probably one of those foods that many people don't associate with food poisoning but it's one that can definitely go bad quickly if not held at the right temperature. I'll bet there are a lot of wait staff that aren't properly trained on the dangers of leaving items like salad dressings out too long.

      @jeannieinabottle - I too had a bad case from chicken. It was in a take out stir fry and to this day, I can't go into a fast food Chinese place. I was away on a business trip and it was just awful!

    • Jeannieinabottle profile image

      Jeannie InABottle 6 years ago from Baltimore, MD

      This is a great hub and helpful. I had a terrible case of food poisoning once from chicken wings. I've never felt the same about chicken wings since. Interesting hub and voted up!

    • teaches12345 profile image

      Dianna Mendez 6 years ago

      Good information to know and to keep handy in the kitchen. I have had food poisoning and it is a horrible experience. The source was from a restaruant that had left the salad dressing on the table too long in the warm dining area. Interesting hub and voted up.