How to Prevent Foodborne Illnesses and When to Seek Care

Each year, more than 48 million people in the United States get sick from a foodborne illness, according to the CDC. Of those affected, 128,000 are hospitalized. Although society has come a long way towards decreasing the risk of foodborne illnesses, they are still very common.

Fortunately, with the right preventative measures and food preparation, it’s possible to avoid most foodborne illnesses. Since September is National Food Safety Education Month, now is a great time to brush up on how you can decrease your risk of foodborne illness and keep your loved ones safe. We’ll also discuss when you should seek care if you do become sick.

What is Foodborne Illness?

In short, foodborne illness is any disease or infection that is the result of eating “bad” foods. This includes raw or undercooked meats, raw or unwashed produce, spoiled foods, and foods that have been contaminated during their preparation.

Foodborne illness can occur when you are cooking at home, when eating out at a restaurant, or even from pre-packaged foods if safety precautions are not taken in the factory where they were produced. With this in mind, it’s no wonder why foodborne illness is so common.

Although most types of foodborne illness aren’t life-threatening, certain infections can lead to intense discomfort, dehydration, and make you feel quite sick. Of course, serious cases of foodborne illness can turn deadly if they are not treated.

Common Types of Foodborne Illness

More than 250 different types of bacteria and viruses can cause foodborne illness. However, a small handful are much more common than the rest. Things like salmonella, E. coli, and norovirus have gained notoriety as the most common foodborne infectious agent because they tend to affect people the most often.

While most types of foodborne illnesses are similar, the ways that they can be obtained are slightly different. For instance, certain types of bacteria are found more frequently on certain types of meat. Other bacteria are more prevalent on unwashed produce than on meat or dairy products. Knowing where the most common infectious agents are found is a great way to start decreasing your risk of acquiring the foodborne illnesses that they cause.


One of the most well-known types of foodborne illness is salmonella. It is typically associated with poultry, raw eggs, and unpasteurized dairy products. As such, foods containing these ingredients need to be carefully prepared to ensure that any existing salmonella bacteria is destroyed.

Eating foods that contain these ingredients in their raw forms, such as cookie dough or salad dressings with raw eggs, increases your risk of getting salmonella.

When preparing poultry, it’s extremely important to do so on a surface that is separate from the rest of your food. This helps prevent cross-contamination. After preparing raw chicken or eggs, be sure to disinfect the surface before using it for something else.

E. Coli

Unlike salmonella, E. coli is a type of bacteria that naturally occurs in your intestines. It helps aid in digestion and doesn’t cause problems when it stays in the intestinal tract. However, when E. coli gets exposed to other parts of the body, it can cause a serious infection.

E. coli is typically transmitted through contaminated water or foods and is commonly associated with undercooked meats and unpasteurized dairy. Foods can also be contaminated with E. coli if the person preparing them does not wash their hands after using the bathroom.

As with salmonella, it is important to prepare raw meats away from other foods and disinfect those surfaces after you’re finished using them.


While salmonella and E. coli are both bacterial foodborne illnesses, norovirus is (as the name suggests) a viral illness. It is also one of the most contagious types of foodborne illness. Estimates suggest that up to half of all foodborne illnesses are caused by norovirus.

Noroviruses are extremely common in areas where a lot of people are confined in a small space, such as daycare centers and nursing homes. However, they are also commonly found in contaminated water and food that has been prepared by someone infected with norovirus.

As such, norovirus isn’t associated with a specific type of food like salmonella and E. coli. This makes it more difficult to prevent norovirus-associated foodborne illnesses. It also means that safety precautions and good hygiene practices should be used each time you cook.

Symptoms of Foodborne Illness

As noted, most types of foodborne illness start with the same symptoms. This can make it difficult to determine what type of infection you are battling. That being said, here are some of the most common symptoms of foodborne illness:

  • Stomach cramps
  • Diarrhea
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Fever
  • Headache

Depending on what type of infection you have, your symptoms might last for a few days or more than a week. During this time, it is very important to stay well-hydrated. Symptoms like diarrhea and vomiting can quickly lead to dehydration if you aren’t drinking enough fluids.

Since most cases of foodborne illness can’t be treated with medication, supportive care, including fluids and rest, are the best way to start feeling better.

When to Seek Care for Foodborne Illness

In some cases, foodborne illness may need more aggressive treatment than you can perform at home. If your symptoms don’t start to improve after a few days of good hydration and rest, it might be time to see a doctor. Untreated cases of serious foodborne illness can quickly become dangerous without medical care.

If you experience the following symptoms or are concerned about your health, it’s a good idea to check in with your healthcare provider.

  • Consistent vomiting that lasts for more than two days
  • Diarrhea that lasts several days
  • Fever of 101 F or higher
  • Confusion or trouble speaking
  • Intense abdominal pain that does not get better
  • Diarrhea that is bloody or black in color
  • Lightheadedness or dizziness

Velocity Urgent Care is Here to Help

If you find yourself battling a foodborne illness that isn’t improving at home, Velocity Urgent Care has your back. During your visit, our friendly, board-certified providers will perform a thorough exam to assess your symptoms and what type of treatment you need. We can also order lab test to determine what infectious agent is causing your illness and the best course of action to treat it.

We can also prescribe medications to manage your symptoms if necessary. If you need more intense care, we can even refer you to a specialist for follow-up treatment.

In light of the COVID-19 pandemic, we are taking serious safety precautions to ensure that our locations are as clean as possible. We’ve put strict sterilization protocols into place and are carefully handling patients who may be contagious to ensure that each one of our clinics is safe for those who need urgent medical care or occupational health services.

Velocity Urgent Care offers convenient online registration that helps you limit your contact with others during a visit. You can sign up for an appointment online ahead of time and arrive when it’s time to be seen to skip the waiting room. We even offer text message updates so you can wait in the car (if you prefer) until it’s time for your appointment.

Velocity Urgent Care is an in-network provider for most major insurance plans, meaning you can be seen for the cost of your co-pay and deductible. All of our locations also accept Medicare, Medicaid, and Tricare. Veterans Administration beneficiaries are also welcome. To find out more about our services, locations, hours, and more, visit www.velocityuc.com.