Foodborne Illness

Family sitting around dinner table eating

Foodborne illnesses are also commonly called food poisoning, foodborne disease or foodborne infection. There are more than 250 types of foodborne illnesses caused by different germs. You can get these germs from food, water, from contact with animals and from contact with a person who is sick. You can also get foodborne illness when harmful toxins or chemicals get in food. 

You can prevent foodborne illnesses! Know what causes foodborne illness and use the core four food safety practices to keep you and your family safe.  

About Foodborne Illnesses

Which foods are more likely to cause foodborne illnesses?

  • Raw meat and poultry, raw eggs, unpasteurized milk or cheese and raw shellfish. 
  • Raw fruits and vegetables. Fruits and vegetables can become contaminated when:  
    • fresh manure is used as fertilizer 
    • they are processed in unsanitary conditions. (examples: rinsed in water that is not clean or not chilled after harvest) 
  • Raw sprouts. Germs grow well in the same condition that sprouts grow in. Sprouts are are not cooked so there is no heat to kill germs. 
  • Unpasteurized fruit juices. These juices can become contaminated by germs on the fruit used to make them. 


What are the symptoms of foodborne illnesses?

Most foodborne illnesses will cause: 

  • Diarrhea 
  • Vomiting 

Other symptoms may include: 

  • Cramps 
  • Nausea 
  • Fever 
  • Body aches 
  • Tiredness 

Depending on the germ that is causing illness, symptoms: 

  • can begin within a few hours to a week 
  • usually go away after a few days, but may last a full week 


Most people get better with no long-lasting effects. Some people, especially children, seniors, pregnant women and people with weakened immune systems are at greater risk for serious problems if they get a foodborne illness. 

Serious effects from some common types of foodborne illness include: 

How can you find out if you have a foodborne 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. 


How are foodborne illnesses treated?

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. 

When should I go to the doctor?

You should go to the doctor if you have diarrhea and vomiting with: 

  • High fever (over 101.5º F) 
  • Diarrhea that lasts more than three days  
  • 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. 


How can I keep from getting foodborne illnesses?

There are many things you can do including: 

Preventing foodborne illness is especially important for children, seniors, pregnant women and people with long term health problems.

How can I prevent foodborne illness when I am away from home?

Pack a safe lunch 

Restaurant Safety 

Look at the grade card (sanitation score) for the restaurant. Health inspectors inspect restaurants and other food service 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. 

Prevent foodborne illness at home

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. Learn how to handle and prepare food to prevent the spread of germs. The recipe for handling food safely at home has four main ingredients: clean, separate, cook and chill. 






How can I report a foodborne illness?

To report a possible foodborne illness from a restaurant or large gathering in Wake County, please fill out this on-line form or call 919-250-4462 to talk with a communicable disease nurse. 

To report a problem in a particular restaurant in Wake County, please fill out this on-line form or call 919-856-7400