Bacterial Food Poisoning
Of the more than 250 different kinds of foodborne illnesses currently identified by the Center for Disease Control (CDC), the most common are caused by two bacteria often reported about on the news – Salmonella and E. coli – as well as the less referenced but equally dangerous strains known as Campylobacter and the calicivirus group (also known as the Norwalk group of viruses).
Salmonella comes from the intestines of birds, reptiles and other mammals. Most of the time, news stories involving this bacteria spreading into the American food supply relate to chicken or eggs. The E. coli bacteria meanwhile is a byproduct of cattle and similar herd animals, typically winding its way into the home kitchen and restaurants via packages of ground beef.
Another form of the foodborne illness is caused by toxins rather than bacteria, generated by organisms with Latin names like Acilus Cereus, Staphyloccus Aureus, and Clostridium Botulinum. While the toxins immediately affect the eater in a negative fashion, foodborne illnesses caused by bacteria take relatively longer to manifest as the bacteria strains incubate within the stomach and intestines.
Parasites and Allergens
Along with foodborne illnesses caused by bacteria and toxins, there are two other important causal categories: parasites such as protozoa, roundworms and tapeworms; and allergens, wherein individuals are highly allergic to categories of food such as nuts or shellfish.
Foodborne Illness Statistics
Each year, roughly 76 million Americans get sick from foodborne illnesses, although the majority of these cases are mild strains and not severe enough to be labeled as food poisoning, even though they often mistakenly are. The true victims of food poisoning in the U.S. annually number 300,000, with a smaller total of 5,000 of that hospitalized group dying each year.
One of the best resources for ongoing information about the various forms of food poisoning and outbreaks is the website FoodSafety.gov, which aggregates information from U.S. federal agencies such as the Department of Agriculture and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA).