Food Poisoning

To maintain food safety in our homes we must practice proper sanitation and proper food handling. If we neglect safe practices we may have an outbreak of food poisoning.

If we eat food which contains harmful micro-organisms, chemicals or toxins (poisons), that food can make us sick. To describe our illness we can use the terms food-borne illness, food-borne disease, or food poisoning.

Food poisoning is caused by four agents: bacteria, viruses, parasites and chemicals.


Bacterial food poisoning

Itís estimated that one percent of all known bacteria are harmful to humans. These bacteria are called pathogens. Some pathogens can cause diseases such as strep (short for streptococcus) throat and pneumonia, while others can grow in foods and cause poisoning.

The most common bacteria that cause food poisoning are listed below:


Name of food poisoning


Salmonellosis or Salmonella Food Poisoning


Campylobacteriosis or Campylobacter Food Poisoning


"Staph" Food Poisoning

Clostridium Perfringens

Perfingens Food Poisoning



These bacteria can cause illness and even death when allowed to grow in foods. Bacterial food poisoning is most commonly related to foods that come from animals: poultry, eggs, red meat, seafood, dairy products, etc.


Viral food poisoning

Various types of viruses cause food poisoning. The most common type found in food is hepatitis A. This virus is usually transmitted by an infected food handler to raw or improperly cooked food. It can also be found in water that has been contaminated with raw sewage and in shellfish that has been harvested from contaminated waters. Symptoms of the disease appear in people who have consumed infected food or water.

Foods that have been related to viral food poisonings include water, milk, sliced luncheon meats, salads, sandwiches and undercooked clams or oysters.


Parasitic food poisoning

This type of food-borne disease is caused by parasites. The most common known parasite is a small, microscopic worm called Trichinella spiralis that causes the disease trichinosis. This parasite is found in pigs, bears, and other wild animals. Itís most often transmitted to people who consume undercooked pork. Although trichinosis occurs less frequently than in the past, all pork should be cooked thoroughly before eating.


Chemical food poisoning

There are two types of chemical poisoning. One is caused by chemical products and the other by metals. When chemical products such as detergents, pesticides, and sanitizers find their way into food they can cause poisonings. Metals cause poisonings when foods are stored in improper containers made of materials like tin, lead, copper and zinc. These metals can dissolve in acid foods such as fruit juices and produce fast acting poison in the body when ingested. See Lead Poisoning


Symptoms of food poisoning

Symptoms of food poisoning can range from mild headache to severe flu-like symptoms. The most common signs and symptoms are nausea, stomach cramps, diarrhea, fever, chills, and vomiting. A person with food poisoning may have any combination of these symptoms depending on the cause or the agent involved. The illness may begin from one to 72 hours after eating the food. If you or any of your family suspect food poisoning, you should seek medical aid and report the poisoning to your local health unit.



There are 10 important ways to help prevent food poisoning in your home.

  1. Store foods below 4 C (40 F) or above 60 C (140 F). Remember: keep hot foods hot, and cold foods cold.
  2. Always wash your hands before you eat, handle, or prepare foods, and especially after you use the toilet or handle cleansers or garbage.
  3. Avoid cross-contamination of foods by keeping raw foods away from cooked or processed foods.
  4. Donít allow foods to remain at room temperature for long periods of time (no more than 2 hours).
  5. Cool foods quickly. This will help prevent bacterial growth.
  6. Cook and reheat foods thoroughly to 74 C (165 F) to help destroy harmful bacteria in the food.
  7. Clean and sanitize all food equipment, utensils, and food contact surfaces.
  8. Keep the home free of insects.
  9. Buy food from approved and inspected sources, and return all swollen, damaged or spoiled cans.
  10. Practice good personal hygiene.


While on holidays in the Dominican Republic, I became ill on the third day of my holiday. I ended up bedridden for the rest of the holiday and had to fly home early suffering from food poisoning. I was sick for another three weeks after my return home. It was suspected I had suffered from bacterial food poisoning possible from eating lobster.



Copyright 1997 Safety Health Publishing Inc.

This article was written by Warren Boychuk. Warren is a Canadian Registered Safety Professional with a background of public health inspection.

Martin Lesperance is a fire fighter / paramedic and best selling author of the book "I Wonít be in to Work Today - Preventing Injuries at Home,Work and Play". Martin speaks across North America on the topic of injury prevention. His talks are humorous, but still have a strong underlying safety message. For more information, call him at (403) 225 Ė 2011 or visit his website at