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Page last reviewed: 06/03/2005
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Foodborne Disease

Foodborne diseases are the illnesses contracted from eating contaminated food or beverages. Illnesses include foodborne intoxications and infections, which are often incorrectly referred to as food poisoning. There are more than 250 different foodborne diseases. They are caused by viruses, bacteria, parasites, toxins, metals, and prions. Symptoms of foodborne illness range from mild gastroenteritis to life-threatening neurologic, hepatic, and renal syndromes.

Botulism, Brucellosis, Campylobacter enteritis, Escherichia coli, Hepatitis A, Listeriosis, Salmonellosis, Shigellosis, Toxoplasmosis, Viral gastroenteritis, Taeniasis and Trichinosis are examples of foodborne diseases.

The quality of food, and controls used to prevent foodborne diseases, are primarily regulated by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA), the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), and local public health authorities. These diseases may be occupationally related if they affect the food processors (e.g., poultry processing workers), food preparers and servers (e.g., cooks, waiters), or workers who are provided food at the worksite. Foodborne disease is addressed in specific standards for the general and construction industries.

OSHA Standards

This section highlights OSHA standards related to foodborne disease.

Note: Twenty-five states, Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands have OSHA-approved State Plans and have adopted their own standards and enforcement policies. For the most part, these States adopt standards that are identical to Federal OSHA. However, some States have adopted different standards applicable to this topic or may have different enforcement policies.

General Industry (29 CFR 1910)

Construction Industry (29 CFR 1926)

Hazard Recognition

Foodborne disease outbreaks are recognized by the occurrence of illnesses within a short, but variable, period of time. Illness usually occurs within a few hours to a few weeks among individuals who have eaten the same food. The following references aid in recognizing hazards associated with foodborne disease.

Case Examples

Evaluation and Investigation

Prompt and thorough laboratory evaluation of cases and suspected foods is essential. Single cases of foodborne disease are difficult to identify unless, as in botulism, there is a distinctive clinical syndrome. Although foodborne disease may be one of the most common causes of acute illness, many cases and outbreaks go unrecognized and unreported. The following links aid in the evaluation of potential foodborne disease outbreaks.

Report foodborne disease epidemics to local health authorities. Take the following steps when conducting an epidemiological investigation:

  1. Review reported cases to determine the time and place of exposure and the population at risk.

  2. Obtain a complete list of foods served.

  3. Hold and refrigerate all food still available.

  4. Collect samples of vomit and feces for laboratory testing and inform the laboratory of suspected contaminants.

  5. Compare illness rates for specific foods eaten and those not eaten. The suspected food will usually have the highest associated illness rates. Most of the sick will have eaten the suspected food.

  6. Investigate the source of the suspected food and methods of preparation and storage.

  7. Look for possible sources of contamination and inadequate refrigeration or heating.

  8. Submit samples of suspected food for laboratory testing.

  9. Evaluate food handlers for sources of infections, including culture of lesions, nasal swabs, and feces where appropriate.

Control and Prevention

Control of foodborne diseases is based on avoidance of contaminated food, destruction of contaminants, and prevention of further spread of contaminants. Prevention is dependent upon proper cooking and storing practices, and personal hygiene of food handlers. The following references provide information on control and prevention for foodborne disease.

  • Abatement Requirements. OSHA, (1999, April 8). Identifies abatement requirements following inspections resulting from the March 1999 food poisoning outbreak which occurred among garment workers who had eaten at the company cafeteria. OSHA has identified health programs to minimize the risk of outbreaks. This page provides example elements for these programs.

  • Division of Foodborne, Waterborne, and Environmental Diseases (DFWED). Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). DFWED focuses on the control and prevention of disease, disability, and death caused by foodborne, waterborne, and environmentally transmitted infections.
    • Enteric Diseases Epidemiology Branch. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Innovative public health investigative and consultative groups that identify causes, sources and solutions for bacterial foodborne and diarrheal infections to prevent the disability and death those diseases cause.

  • National Antimicrobial Resistance Monitoring System (NARMS) for Enteric Bacteria. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), (2004, November). NARMS monitors antimicrobial resistance of human enteric bacteria, such as Campylobacter, Salmonella, E. coli, and Shigella.

  • Foodborne Diseases Active Surveillance Network (FoodNet). Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Consists of active surveillance for foodborne diseases and related epidemiologic studies designed to help public health officials better understand the epidemiology of foodborne diseases in the United States.

  • Outbreak Response Team. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Provides outbreak reports and publications, outbreak reporting and report forms, and a outbreak investigation tool kit.

  • Irradiation of Food. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Provides answers to common questions about food irradiation, including a basic description of the process, foodborne diseases prevented with irradiation, effects on food/packaging, and Food and Drug Administration (FDA)/US Department of Agriculture (USDA) approval.

  • FDA Food Code. US Food and Drug Administration (FDA). Guides retail outlets, such as restaurants and grocery stores, and institutions, such as nursing homes, in preventing foodborne illness.

  • Food Safety from Farm to Table: A National Food Safety Initiative. US Food and Drug Administration (FDA), US Department of Agriculture (USDA), Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), (1997, May). Provides recommendations for the public and private sectors to minimize the occurrence and consequences of foodborne disease incidents.

Additional Information

Related Safety and Health Topics Pages

Training

  • Food Safety Research Information Office. US Department of Agriculture (USDA), National Agricultural Library. Contains a database on foodborne illness educational materials, training programs and resources, publications, and food safety links.

Other Resources