Common Germs That Cause Food Poisoning and the Foods They Contaminate

Food poisoning is more common than most people realize, infecting millions of Americans each year and causing thousands of deaths. Food poisoning causes a variety of symptoms, ranging from mild gastrointestinal discomfort to life-threatening symptoms. In the U.S., food poisoning causes 48 million illnesses, 128,000 hospitalizations and 3,000 deaths each year, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates.

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The prevalence of these foodborne illnesses means the threat is common, with opportunities to contract the illness at your local grocery store, fast-food restaurant or any place where you buy food. If you think you’ve gotten food poisoning at a restaurant or grocery store, you may want to contact at lawyer at or some other law firm that specializes in these cases. As a customer, you have expectations that you will not be subjected to this or any other illness at an establishment you visit.

But you can also get food poisoning at home by storing, cleaning, preparing or cooking foods improperly. While you may not have any control over the conditions at a restaurant or grocery store, you can protect yourself by knowing more about the food and potential problems that can lead to food poisoning.

Germs That Cause Food Poisoning and the Foods That Carry Them


Perhaps one of the more well-known germs, salmonella, is often associated with raw chicken, eggs, and milk. It can also be found in raw vegetables and in water. It can contaminate food and cause illness by undercooking or improperly washing food. The germ can spread to other foods if the source of the germ is not handled properly, such as raw chicken that is allowed to touch other foods.

Salmonella causes an illness that produces mild stomach and intestinal inflammation or even severe diarrhea that lingers, which can infect others who may share bathrooms.

E. coli

E. coli is another germ found in food that can cause illness, usually related to bacteria found in human or animal stool. Commonly linked to undercooked ground meat, e. coli can also contaminate fresh produce, beef, cookie dough, and nuts. Some water systems become infected with E. coli, forcing local boil notices to residents to remove the germ.

E. coli causes an illness that produces nausea and vomiting, watery diarrhea, and sometimes bloody diarrhea.


Another germ that causes food poisoning is campylobacter, which typically is associated with eating contaminated poultry or products made from contaminated poultry. It is one of the most common causes of gastroenteritis.

Campylobacter can cause a high fever, arthritis, and severe muscle weakness.


One vegetable-based germ that causes food poisoning is shigella, typically contracted by the improper cleaning or handling of vegetables, and by food handlers who don’t realize they have the germ.

Symptoms of food poisoning from shigella include abdominal cramps and bloody stools.


Another common germ causing food poisoning is listeria, which has been linked to outbreaks in the United States from produce, raw and unpasteurized dairy products, ice cream, and raw poultry and seafood.

An infection from listeria can cause symptoms of diarrhea and fever, and can be particularly dangerous for pregnant women. The infection can cause stillbirth, miscarriage, premature birth or a life-threatening infection in the newborn.


Perhaps the most dangerous germ that causes food poisoning is botulism, which can lead to paralysis. Botulism is commonly linked to improperly canned vegetables, or cured pork or ham.

Other symptoms of botulism include body aches, nausea, vomiting, fatigue, and difficulty swallowing, and symptoms can lead to death if untreated.


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