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What is the Difference Between Foodborne Illness and Food Poisoning?

Posted in Food Safety on May 31, 2022

“Food poisoning” and “foodborne illness” are often used interchangeably, but they do have different meanings. Foodborne illness is any illness brought on by food contaminated with viruses, bacteria, or other pathogens. You may start to feel sick within minutes, or symptoms may take weeks. Food poisoning is a type of foodborne illness caused by ingesting specific toxins. Symptoms of food poisoning usually begin rather quickly, often starting within 60 minutes.

Food Poisoning Facts and Symptoms

Food can become contaminated by infectious organisms or their toxins at any point during processing, production, or at home. The food might be handled or cooked incorrectly or cross-contaminated.

Food poisoning symptoms often include nausea, vomiting, abdominal cramps, fever, and diarrhea that can start within hours of eating contaminated food. Food poisoning is usually mild and resolves within one to five days without treatment. Only severe cases may require hospitalization.

Foodborne Illness Facts and Symptoms

Many types of bacteria, viruses, parasites, and other pathogens can contaminate food. However, the following are responsible for the most cases of foodborne illness:


A highly contagious viral infection caused by eating contaminated food or water, direct contact with an infected person, or touching contaminated surfaces. Common symptoms of Norovirus include diarrhea, vomiting, nausea, and stomach pain. Outbreaks are common, and it can sometimes cause a chronic functional gastrointestinal disorder known as Post Infectious Irritable Bowel Syndrome.

C. perfringens

This type of bacteria causes approximately 1 million foodborne illnesses each year. This bacteria can be found on food after cooking, and they can multiply and cause C. perfringens food poisoning if the foods sit out and cool before refrigerating. Commonly infected foods include meats, meat products, and gravy.


An infection with a bacteria called Salmonella, which is transmitted by ingesting food contaminated with animal feces. Symptoms often include diarrhea, fever, and abdominal cramps but can potentially be life-threatening or cause long-term complications such as Reactive Arthritis (Reiter’s Syndrome).

Hemorrhagic Colitis

An illness caused by the bacterium Escherichia coli O157:H7, otherwise referred to as E. coli. It is characterized by severe abdominal cramps and bloody diarrhea. The infection can also lead to a serious complication known as Hemolytic Uremic Syndrome (HUS).


An infection caused by the bacterium Listeria monocytogenes. This infection is particularly dangerous for pregnant women, newborn infants, and elderly patients. Symptoms may include fever, muscle aches, headache, stiff neck, loss of balance, confusion, convulsions, or diarrhea.


An infectious disease caused by the bacterium Campylobacter jejuni. It is commonly contracted from eating raw or undercooked poultry or something that touched it. This infection often causes bloody diarrhea, fever, and stomach cramps two to five days after exposure. Potential complications include irritable bowel syndrome, arthritis, or a serious disorder called Guillain – Barre Syndrome (temporary paralysis).


Caused by Shigella bacteria, which spreads easily from eating contaminated food or water, or by touching contaminated surfaces. Shigella infection often causes diarrhea that can be bloody, fever, stomach pain, and the urge to pass stool, although the bowels are empty. Potential long-term complications include Hemolytic uremic syndrome (HUS) that damages the kidneys, or Reactive Arthritis.

Clostridium Difficile (C. diff)

A bacterium that causes an infection of the large intestine. Symptoms range from diarrhea to life-threatening damage to the colon.

Clostridium botulinum

These harmful bacteria thrive and produce toxins in environments with little oxygen, such as in home-canned food. If consumed, it can cause a rare but threatening disease called botulism.

Acute Viral Hepatitis A

An infectious liver disease caused by the Hepatitis A virus (HAV), which can be found in water or on shellfish, raw vegetables, and fruit (berries), and salads.

Any food can become contaminated when it isn’t handled properly. Be sure to thoroughly wash fruits and vegetables, watch out for cross-contamination, store it at correct temperatures, always cook food to recommended temperatures and never leave perishable foods sitting out for longer than two hours.