Eating or drinking contaminated foods or drinks can cause foodborne illnesses. There are more than 250 types of foodborne illnesses caused by different germs. You can get these germs not only from the foods you eat, but also from water, from contact with animals or from contact with a person who is sick.
Most foodborne illnesses will cause:
Other symptoms may include:
- Body aches
After eating contaminated food, it can take just a few hours to a week to begin feeling bad. Symptoms usually go away after a few days, but may last a full week depending on the germ that is causing illness.
The symptoms caused by foodborne illnesses can be the same as for many other illnesses. The only way to find out for sure if you have a foodborne illness is for a health care provider to submit a stool sample for testing.
- Raw meat and poultry, raw eggs, unpasteurized milk or cheese and raw shellfish.
- Fruits and vegetables if they become contaminated with manure used to fertilize fields. Fruits and vegetables can also become contaminated if manure gets into irrigation water.
- Raw sprouts, because they need a warm, humid environment to grow. This environment is also perfect for growing germs.
- Unpasteurized fruit juices if there were disease causing germs on the fruit used to make them.
- Any food or drink touched by a person with vomiting or diarrhea who did not wash their hands well.
Top of Page
People with foodborne illnesses usually get better on their own and do not need to be treated; however, you can become dehydrated if you have a lot of vomiting and diarrhea. If you have vomiting and diarrhea, you should drink plenty of liquids. Antibiotics are not usually needed to treat foodborne illnesses.
You should go to the doctor if you have diarrhea and vomiting with:
- High fever (over 101.5º F)
- Bloody diarrhea
- Vomiting that doesn't allow you to get enough liquids (dehydration). Signs of dehydration include not urinating, dry mouth, and feeling dizzy when standing up. Young children may not be as active or may sleep more than usual.
- Diarrhea that lasts more than 3 days.
There are many things you can do to help prevent foodborne illnesses, including:
People with health problems and weakened immune systems need to take special care to prevent foodborne illness.
To report a possible foodborne illness in Wake County, please call 919-250-4462 to talk with a communicable disease nurse.
To report a problem in a particular restaurant in Wake County, please call 919-856-7400.
For more information visit:
Germs that make you sick can spread easily in the kitchen – on your hands, on countertops, on cutting boards, dishes and utensils, even on food. You can prevent the spread of germs that cause illness by learning how to handle and prepare food safely. The recipe for food safety at home has five main ingredients: clean, separate, cook, chill and check
for 20 seconds with soap and water before, during and after preparing food.
Keep counters, dishes, cutting boards and utensils clean by washing them with hot, soapy water between each use.
Germs on raw foods, like meats and eggs, can spread to ready-to-eat foods. Separate ready-to-eat from raw foods (and their juices) in the shopping cart, the refrigerator and while preparing food.
Food is safely cooked when the temperature inside is high enough to kill germs that can cause illness. You can’t always tell if food is safely cooked by looking at it. To be sure food is cooked to the right temperatures, you need:
- Keeping food at 40º F or below keeps disease-causing germs from growing in food. A refrigerator thermometer will help you know that your refrigerator is set at the correct temperature to keep your food safe.
- Put raw meat, poultry, eggs and other foods that spoil easily in the refrigerator or freezer as soon as you get them home from the store.
- Raw meats, poultry, eggs, cooked foods and fresh-cut fruits should not be kept at room temperature for more than 2 hours (one hour if it is 90º F or more).
- Refrigerate leftovers within 2 hours (one hour if it is 90º F or more). Put them in small, shallow containers to make sure they cool quickly.
- Hot foods should be put into shallow containers and refrigerated right away. They do not need to cool to room temperature before putting them in the refrigerator.
- Never defrost foods on the countertop. Use a microwave, cold running water or the refrigerator to defrost frozen foods.
- Review a cold storage chart to learn how long items can be stored in the refrigerator or freezer.
- Check canned goods. Do not buy bulging or dented cans.
- Check eggs for cracks. Do not buy cracked or dirty eggs.
- Check expiration and “use by” dates.
- Check the time to make sure that foods aren’t kept at room temperature too long.
- Check the temperature. Check refrigerator thermometers to make sure the temperature is cold enough – 40º F or below. Check freezer thermometers to make sure that your freezer is cold enough – 0º F or below.
- Check out these food safety myths.
*Adapted from the Partnership for Food Safety Education
The following are some suggestions to ensure food safety when packing a lunch.
Keep everything clean.
Make sure your hands, countertops, cutting boards, utensils and lunch boxes are cleaned with warm, soapy water.
Remember, when choosing a cutting board, that nonporous surfaces such as plastic, marble, glass and pyroceramic are easier to clean than wood cutting boards. All cutting boards should be washed with hot, soapy water after each use then rinsed and allowed to dry before storing.
To sanitize cutting boards and countertops, a solution of 1 tablespoon unscented chlorine bleach per gallon of water can be used. Flood the surface with the bleach solution and allow it to stand for several minutes, then rinse and dry.
Wash fresh fruits and vegetables under running water before packing them. Antibacterial soaps, dish detergents and commercial produce sprays should not be used to wash fruits and vegetables. The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) offers recommendations on safe handling techniques of raw produce
.Keep cold foods cold (below 40º F)
Meat, poultry or egg sandwiches made ahead of time should be kept in the refrigerator until they're ready to be packed. Use a cold pack or freeze a juice box overnight and put one in your lunchbox. The juice will thaw by lunchtime and it will help keep your lunch cold. Keep hot foods hot (140º F or above)
Use an insulated container to keep foods hot. Fill the container with boiling water, let stand for a few minutes, empty, then pour in the piping-hot food. Keep the lid tightly closed until you're ready to eat. Listen to mom and 'Eat your lunch!'
Leftover food (e.g., meat, poultry, eggs) spoils easily when left at room temperature for more than 2 hours; 1 hour in temperatures above 90º F. That's because bacteria grow rapidly between 40º F and 140º F. Food should be thrown away unless it can be kept at safe temperatures.
Visit Fight Bac to learn more about how to pack a safe lunch
Following are some suggestions on how to keep food safe when ordering take-out or bringing leftovers home from a restaurant or other outing.
Bringing leftovers home – the doggie bag
With meals getting bigger, many people are taking leftovers home to eat later. For food safety, only take leftovers home if you will be able to put them in the refrigerator within two hours of being served (one hour if the outside temperature is above 90º F). When in doubt, throw it out.
Take-out or delivered foods
Eat take-out or delivery foods within two hours (one hour if the outside temperature is above 90º F) or put them in the refrigerator until you're ready to eat them. When in doubt, throw it out. Read more about handling take-out foods.
Look at the grade card (sanitation score) for the restaurant. Health inspectors inspect restaurants and other foodservice establishments regularly. These inspections help ensure that customers are getting safe food that is prepared properly. Each restaurant is graded on a 100-point scale. A grade card is given showing a letter grade and number score at the end of an inspection. It must be hung in a place that can be easily seen so you can check it before you sit down. The higher the grade and score, the safer the restaurant. If you don't see a grade card, ask someone who works at the restaurant. Wake County's restaurant sanitation scores are available online if you want to check a restaurant's grade before you go out to eat.
If you see a problem at a restaurant, like dirty dishes, unclean tables or lukewarm foods, please let the manager know. Restaurant owners are usually very responsive to customer concerns.
For more food safety information, consider checking these resources: