There are more than 250 types of foodborne illnesses caused by different germs.  You can get these germs from food, water, contact with animals, or  contact with a person who is sick.  Foodborne illness can also be caused when harmful toxins or chemicals get in food.  Foodborne illness is also called food poisoning, foodborne disease, or foodborne infection.  You can prevent foodborne illness by knowing how it can be spread and what you can do at home to keep your food safe to eat.

What are the symptoms of foodborne illness?

Most foodborne illnesses will cause diarrhea and vomiting.  Other symptoms may include cramps, nausea, fever, body aches, & tiredness.  Depending on the germ that is causing the illness, symptoms can being within a few hours to a week and 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.  Learn more about these serious effects here.

How can I find out if I have a foodborne illness?

The symptoms caused by foodborne illness 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 healthcare provider to submit a stool sample for testing.

What are the most common foodborne illnesses?

Which foods are more likely to cause foodborne illnesses?

  • Raw meat & poultry, unpasteurized milk or cheese, & raw shellfish
  • Raw fruits & vegetables.  These can become contaminated when fresh manure is used as fertilizer or if they are processed in unsanitary conditions.
  • Raw sprouts
  • Unpasteurized fruit juices

How are foodborne illnesses treated?

People with foodborne illnesses usually get better on their own and do not need to be treated; antibiotics are not usually needed to treat foodborne illnesses.  However, you can become dehydrated if you have a lot of vomiting and diarrhea.  Make sure to drink plenty of liquids.

When should I go to the doctor?

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

  • High fever (over 101.5 degrees F)
  • Bloody diarrhea
  • Vomiting that doesn't allow you to get enough liquids leading to dehydration.  Signs of dehydrating include not urinating, dry mouth, & 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

How can I keep from getting foodborne illness?

There are many things you can do to prevent a foodborne illness such as:

  • Frequent handwashing
  • Proper food handling & storage
  • Only eating at restaurants with high restaurant inspection grades
  • Reporting foodborne illnesses and poor handling practices in restaurants.  This can help the Environmental Health Section track possible outbreaks and make sure restaurants are handling food properly.

How can I report a foodborne illness?

To report a possible foodborne illness from a restaurant or other institution in Jackson County, call 828-587-8279 to speak with a Communicable Disease Nurse.  To report a problem at a particular restaurant or other institution in Jackson County, call 828-587-8250 or -8253 to speak with an Environmental Health staff member.

How can I prevent foodborne illness in my home?

Germs that make you sick can spread easily in the kitchen-- on your hands, on counters, on cutting boards, dishes & utensils, even on food.  You can prevent the spread of germs that cause illness by learning how to handle and prepare food safely.  The four main steps to food safety are clean, separate, cook, and chill.

  1. Clean
    • Wash hands 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.
    • Rinse fruits & vegetables well before eating and preparing.
  2. Separate
    • Germs on raw foods, like meat & eggs, can spread to ready-to-eat foods.  Separate ready-to-eat from raw foods in the shopping cart, the fridge, and while preparing.
  3. Cook
    • 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.  Use a food thermometer to make sure that the food is cooked to a safe temperature inside.
  4. Chill
    • Keeping food at 40 degrees F or below keeps disease-causing germs from growing in the fridge.  A fridge thermometer will help you know that your fridge is set at the correct temperature.

Where can I find out information on recalls and food safety alerts? is a great resource for information on recalls and alerts.  Click here for more information.