Foodborne Illness

Foodborne illness (also called food poisoning, foodborne disease, or foodborne infection) is a common, costly – yet preventable – public health problem. Each year, 1 in 6 Americans gets sick by consuming contaminated foods or beverages. Many different disease-causing microbes, or pathogens, can contaminate foods, so there are many different foodborne infections. In addition, poisonous chemicals, or other harmful substances can cause foodborne diseases if they are present in food.

  • More than 250 different foodborne diseases have been described. Most of these diseases are infections, caused by a variety of bacteria, viruses, and parasites that can be in food.
  • Other diseases are poisonings, caused by harmful toxins or chemicals that have contaminated the food, for example, poisonous mushrooms.
  • These different diseases have many different symptoms, so there is no one "syndrome" that is foodborne illness. However, the microbe or toxin enters the body through the gastrointestinal tract, and often causes the first symptoms there, so nausea, vomiting, abdominal cramps, and diarrhea are common symptoms in many foodborne diseases.
  • Learn how to protect yourself from foodborne illness.


When two or more people get the same illness from the same contaminated food or drink, the event is called a foodborne illness outbreak. View a list of foodborne illness outbreak investigations and current state and national outbreaks.

You can also sign up for our Foodborne Illness Outbreak Alert emails.

Common Causes of Foodborne Illness

People at High Risk for Foodborne Illness

Everyone is at risk for foodborne illness. People at higher risk for developing an illness include:

  • Infants and children under 5.
  • Older adults over 65.
  • Pregnant women and their unborn babies.
  • People with weakened immune systems.
  • People traveling outside the U.S.

Report a Foodborne Illness or File a Complaint

To report a suspected foodborne illness or file a complaint about unsafe food handling practices at a restaurant, contact your local health department.

More Resources

Family Food Safety – Food safety videos, food recalls, and more.

Community Food Safety – Food worker card, food code rules, restaurant inspections, and local health agency contacts.

Public Health Partners: Report Foodborne Disease Outbreaks

Content Source: Communicable Disease Epidemiology, Food Safety Program