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How Are Foodborne Diseases Transmitted?

By Erica Roth ; Updated August 14, 2017

Foodborne disease is an illness, usually in the form of vomiting and diarrhea, that occurs after you eat foods that have been contaminated with bacteria, viruses or parasites called pathogens. Pathogens of foodborne illness include E. coli, Shigella, salmonella, listeria and clostridium. Foodborne illness is transmitted in a variety of ways and in many cases is preventable.

Oral-Fecal Route

Some types of foodborne disease are transmitted through the oral-fecal route. This means that bacteria in the feces contaminates your food, most usually through sub-par levels of hygiene. If you don't wash your hands with soap and water after using the bathroom, you risk contamination as you prepare a meal. Consuming the food that has been contaminated with bacteria such as Shigella in this manner can make you sick. Contamination of fresh water sources with fecal matter, a phenomenon more common in developing countries than in North America, is another way in which you can be affected by foodborne disease.

Contamination of Surfaces

Raw or undercooked foods can be a transmission route for foodborne illness, including illness from salmonella. Cooking foods to minimum internal temperatures, between 145 and 160 degrees F depending on the type of meat, eliminates the risk of this form of food poisoning. Sanitizing kitchen surfaces and utensils vigilantly can prevent this type of foodborne illness. Bacteria from raw eggs and poultry that remains on cutting boards, knives and kitchen counters has a chance of contaminating other foods. When you eat the contaminated foods, unpleasant symptoms such as nausea, vomiting and headache may occur.

Improper Food Storage

Storing cooked foods incorrectly is another possible way to develop foodborne diseases. Bacteria grows on your food if the dish has been left out without refrigeration for extended periods of time. Eat hot entrees immediately upon serving to reduce your risk; store leftovers in a 40 degree F refrigerator within two hours.


Foodborne illness symptoms range from minor cases of nausea to more severe implications such as dehydration. Save food and all associated packaging of items you suspect have made you sick, in order to pinpoint the exact nature of the problem. Your local health department may test the items to determine if the foodborne disease poses a threat to your larger community. Speak to your doctor if your symptoms continue for longer than a couple of days.

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