4 Foodborne Illnesses and Diseases

Microorganisms are usually present in foods of animal origin or canned food, so it's necessary to adopt good hygienic practices in order to avoid risks.
4 Foodborne Illnesses and Diseases
Saúl Sánchez

Written and verified by el nutricionista Saúl Sánchez.

Last update: 04 April, 2021

Some illnesses and diseases can be transmitted by food. Some of them are the typical food poisoning outbreaks, and, although they often appear with mild symptoms, the truth is that serious complications for human health can develop. We’ll be looking at foodborne illnesses and diseases today.

For this reason, the importance of maintaining good food hygiene practices has been heavily influenced in recent years. In this way, risks are minimized and good intestinal health is safeguarded.

What causes foodborne illnesses and diseases?

The first thing to keep in mind is that foodborne illnesses and diseases often cause gastrointestinal problems. The most frequent symptoms are vomiting, nausea, diarrhea, and abdominal pain.

However, complications are sometimes experienced when the affectation occurs in the liver. This is the case of the ingestion of toxins from certain types of fungi or poisonous mushrooms. These are the most dangerous and troublesome situations.

What’s behind foodborne illnesses and diseases?

Foodborne illnesses are often caused by bacteria.
Many of the gastrointestinal infections are usually caused by bacteria.

Most commonly, foodborne illnesses are caused by bacteria or toxins. Viral pathologies, in these cases, are much more infrequent, since they don’t usually survive optimally in consumer products. An exception to this rule is rotavirus infections.

However, bacteria can reproduce in many of the foods that are part of our usual diets. Especially when the temperature and humidity conditions are optimal, there’s a proliferation of the pathogenic microorganisms that cause this class of pathologies.

Likewise, there may be the case of a microorganism that develops a toxin and, even though the main agent is dead, the secondary product survives, and causes damage to the human body. This situation is even more difficult to control, as the toxins tend to be more resistant to the most commonly applied treatments.

Major foodborne illnesses and diseases

We’re going to carry out a review of the most frequent food-borne illnesses and diseases, as well as looking at the scientific position on each of them.


This pathology develops from the ingestion of the microorganism Salmonella, as stated in a study published in the journal Food Microbiology . This bacterium is found mainly in meat products and eggs, and it has different strains.

It proliferates well at room temperature and causes gastrointestinal problems, especially vomiting and diarrhea. The intensity of the symptoms will depend on the amount of microorganisms ingested. One of the main dangers of the development of salmonellosis is dehydration caused by the loss of fluids from diarrhea.

The good news is that Salmonella bacteria are not very resistant to heat treatments. For this reason, applying heat is very effective in significantly reducing their presence. As a result, consuming pasteurized eggs, for example, eliminates the risk.

In the same way, experts recommend adequately cooking meats, especially poultry, and making sure they’re cooked right through.


This is one of the most dangerous food-borne illnesses and diseases. In this case, we’re talking about a pathology that causes a progressive paralysis of the tissues and organs.

This can lead to death if the number of microorganisms ingested is high and it isn’t treated with drugs. This is evidenced by a study published in Epidemiologie, Mikorbiologie, Imunologie.

In fact, the toxin generated by these bacteria, botox, is used for aesthetic treatments. It should be noted that the name given to these microorganisms is Clostridium Botulinum.

These are found, again, in foods of animal origin, although they’re also frequent in preserves that have not optimally passed food hygiene processes, such as unsterilized tomato sauces.

Mycotoxin poisoning

Fungi and mushrooms can produce substances – mycotoxins – that cause serious diseases in humans. Among them, the one caused by aflatoxin B1 stands out, which causes serious liver damage, and may even increase the risk of developing cancer.

The dangers and damages derived from the consumption of this substance are collected in an investigation published in Food and Chemical Toxicology.

The severity of this class of disorders makes it very important to correctly identify mushrooms before consumption. The acquisition of these elements in a supermarket doesn’t carry any risk, but collecting them on an individual basis in the fields does.

Many mushrooms have morphological similarities, but with differences in terms of toxin content. Only experts on the subject should consume products of this type picked outside in the fields.

Campylobacter poisoning

Campylobacter is another of the common microorganisms in frequently-consumed foods, as well as in water. Poisoning with this bacteria is common after ingesting a contaminated liquid, thus developing what’s known as traveler’s diarrhea.

According to a study published in Nature Reviews, this microorganism is capable of causing diarrhea in most cases, causing damage to the intestinal microbiota. Thus, a large part of the existing biodiversity in the intestine can be lost, which causes damage to health in the medium term.

Ways to avoid foodborne illnesses and diseases

Foodborne illnesses are often caused by bacteria.
Many gastrointestinal infections are caused by bacteria.

To avoid the development of the pathologies we have discussed, it’s vital to maintain good food hygiene habits. In this sense, you need to guarantee that the food is well-cooked, right through, especially when it comes to poultry or minced meat.

It’s also vitally important to defrost the products properly. If not, an optimal breeding ground for bacterial growth could be created. Therefore, it’s advisable to always use the refrigerator for this task, avoiding leaving food at room temperature.

When home canning is done, it’s essential to carry out a sterilization process for the jars or containers you’re going to use. The water bath sterilizer is one of the best options, as it destroys the possible microorganisms that may coexist in the environment.

How to deal with foodborne illnesses and diseases?

The first thing is to identify the magnitude of the symptoms. In case of severity, the correct thing is to go to the emergency services, as drug treatment or venous serum may be necessary in order to avoid dehydration.

Keep in mind that this process of fluid loss manifests itself with loss of consciousness and dizziness in its most intense phase. This is corroborated by a study published in the journal Emergency Medicine Clinics of North America.

Once the pathology has been overcome, it’s important to guarantee the restructuring of the intestinal microbiota. In order to do this, the use of probiotic supplements is recommended, as they have shown beneficial effects in reducing the incidence of diarrhea and improving bacterial diversity in the intestine.

In addition, you have to be careful with your diet during the first few days after the infection. It’s always advisable to start with an easily digestible diet. White meat and white rice are a good start. After that, the range of permitted foods can be increased, including white fish and eggs.

High fiber vegetables, very fatty foods, and simple sugars should be avoided until the final stages of recovery. Once this point is reached, fruits with soluble fiber, such as apples, are important. This allows the growth of new bacterial strains which can settle in the digestive tract.

Complications from foodborne illnesses and diseases

The severity of the medical consequences from foodborne diseases will depend, above all, on the amount of microorganisms or toxins ingested. At low doses, only some mild symptoms such as nausea or diarrhea may appear.

However, when the bacterial or toxin load is high, and the strains are virulent, complications are possible. Most of them are made up of a dehydration process induced by the loss of fluid through the stools.

In addition, in the case of diseases caused by aflatoxins, as we discussed earlier, there can be damage to the liver. It’s common for there to be severe inflammation in this organ. For this reason, when the poisoning is fungal in nature, pharmacological treatment is usually necessary.

Food can transmit disease if not handled properly

As you have seen, the handling of food is key in order to avoid contracting diseases transmitted by them. Fortunately, in today’s food industries there is great awareness of this.

However, if you are ever unsure about whether a product is in good condition or not, the best option is to discard it. Especially when it comes to a food of animal origin or a preserve. This minimizes risks and avoids consequences that can be very harmful to health.

You should also take into account that foodborne diseases can be very dangerous in the case of pregnant women, as the life of the fetus can be affected in the most severe cases. In children, they can also become quite serious.

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