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What is and how to prevent foodborne illness? Facts and statistics!

Whether cooking at home, dining out, or working in a kitchen, it is extremely important to keep yourself and those ...

Whether cooking at home, dining out, or working in a kitchen, it is extremely important to keep yourself and those around you safe. Food hygiene and restaurant cleanliness are vital to keeping yourself, your family, or your customers healthy.

This article will explain what foodborne illness is, how to detect it, and what you should or should not do when you experience the symptoms. We will also break down some food poisoning statistics from across the globe, which gives an alarming insight into the dangers of foodborne illnesses. Approximately how many die in the United States from foodborne illnesses every year?
Find out below!

What is a foodborne illness?

A foodborne illness, otherwise known as food poisoning, is any illness resulting from the consumption of food contaminated with bacteria, viruses, parasites or chemical substances. Shortly, foodborne illness is a disease that is transmitted to people by food. The food itself can be contaminated at any stage, from the production, transportation and storage, right through to cooking in your own home. With a broad range of symptoms, it can be easy to confuse a foodborne illness with other illnesses. Still, with serious side effects and potential hospitalization or even death, it is vital that you pay attention to any symptoms you feel in order to dispose of the contaminated food. Here are some of the more common symptoms of a foodborne illness.

  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Fever
  • Aches
  • Diarrhea 
  • Dehydration

The biggest cause of foodborne illness is bacteria. Some common and dangerous types are E. coli, Listeria and Salmonella. Salmonella which is the primary cause of foodborne illness is extremely well known and for good reason, with approximately 268,300 deaths recorded worldwide in 2015 alone.

A foodborne illness outbreak occurs when two or more people get an illness from the same contaminated food or drink. Some outbreaks are small scale, so they can be easily monitored and eradicated. However, large outbreaks can easily spiral out of control when contaminated products are on the market and sold to thousands of consumers across the world. Over the past decade, serious foodborne illness outbreaks have occurred on every continent. In general, the most vulnerable people to food poisoning are adults aged 65 and older, children younger than five years of age, people with weakened immune systems, and pregnant women.

foodborne illness statistics

Foodborne illness around the world

Many people do not realize the wide reach of foodborne illnesses, but with thousands of deaths every year, it is something important to pay attention to. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), unsafe food causes 600 million cases of foodborne diseases and 420 000 deaths every year. Below we will go through some statistics from Australia, Canada, the European Union, the United Kingdom, and the United States.

United States

The CDC reports that approximately 3000 people die every year in the US from foodborne illnesses, with a further 128,000 hospitalized and about 48 million cases annually. That is one in every six people getting ill every year as a result of contaminated food.


The Australian government predicts that approximately 4.1 million Australians are affected by foodborne illnesses every year, with 31,920 hospitalizations, and 86 deaths. That breaks down to 11,233 new cases every day on average. 


The most recent predictions in Canada are that 1.6 million people contract known foodborne illnesses every year, with 4000 hospitalizations and 105 deaths. However, this is only taking into account cases of known foodborne illnesses, and they report a further 2.4 million cases, 7,600 hospitalizations, and 133 deaths each year listed as unknown causes.

Overall, this means that in Canada, every year, approximately 4 million people are suffering from foodborne illnesses, with 11,600 hospitalizations and 238 deaths.

United Kingdom

In the UK, The Food Standards Agency (FSA) estimates a total of 2.4 million cases of foodborne illnesses annually, with 16,400 hospitalizations and 180 deaths.

European Union

In the most recent study from 2019, 27 Member States (excluding Slovakia) reported 5,175 foodborne outbreaks involving 49,463 cases of illness, 3,859 hospitalizations and 60 deaths. 

How to prevent foodborne illness?

Check restaurant inspection scores 

In many countries, such as the US or the UK, the process is straightforward to determine what kind of health and safety score a restaurant has obtained. You can look this up online through a government’s food board website and find the rating of any restaurant. 

Restaurants are also encouraged to display stickers with their score on their website so that you can view them before deciding to eat at that establishment. Remember to check the back of the sticker to see the date when the last inspection was carried out!

Make sure food hygiene and safety rules are being followed

A common way food poisoning is spread is by restaurant workers passing their illness to customers. If you can see food being prepared, check to make sure workers use gloves or utensils to handle foods that will not be cooked further, particularly meat and salad greens. So one of the easiest and most effective ways to prevent foodborne illnesses is to wear gloves and wash hands. If you notice there are unsafe practices in any establishment working with food, it is always important to report this to the local authorities to make sure they are aware.

If you are unsure, send it back

Particularly if you have ordered meat, fish, or poultry that you believe has not been cooked fully, do not hesitate to send it back to the kitchen. The workers should always have your safety in mind and make sure the food has been cooked safely.

how to prevent foodborne illness

The four C’s - cleaning, cooking, chilling, & cross-contamination

The four C’s is a term coined by countries worldwide, as it is best way to prevent foodborne illnessa simple and effective way to lessen the possibility of contaminating food and passing on a foodborne illness.

  • Cleaning: You can prevent the spread of harmful bacteria and viruses by maintaining good personal hygiene standards and keeping work surfaces and utensils clean. Always make sure to wash your hands, especially after handling raw foods, garbage, or going to the toilet.
  • Cooking: It is vital when preparing food, particularly meat, fish, and poultry, that you make sure the food is cooked through completely. To make sure, you can always use a thermometer to ensure the food you have cooked is at least 167°F (75°C) or hotter. When reheating food, always ensure it is completely heated through, and never reheat food more than once. Always check that the reheated food is heated evenly throughout.
  • Chilling: Leftover food is an extremely common cause of food poisoning. It is vital that leftovers are refrigerated within two hours of originally eating, or one hour if it is particularly hot out (90°F or 32°C). Always eat leftover food within three to four days, or less if you think it seems necessary. That is the best way to limit the growth of bacteria in food. If you need to refrigerate food, make sure your refrigerator is set between 32°F and 41°F (0-5°C). That said, pathogens grow well between 41oF -135oF (5°C-57°C)
  • Cross-contamination: Cross-contamination is when bacteria are transferred from one food to another. This usually occurs with raw foods. This usually happens when foods touch each other or when bacteria on your hands, equipment, work surfaces, or utensils are transferred to other food. Following food health and safety guidelines and making sure your kitchen and equipment are always clean is the best way to prevent cross-contamination.

foodborne illness outbreak

What to do if you have a foodborne illness

The symptoms

As mentioned at the beginning of the article, the main symptoms of food poisoning are nausea, vomiting, fever, aches, dehydration, and diarrhea. It is advisable for you to contact your doctor if you have bloody stools, if your diarrhea lasts longer than three days, if your fever is above 101.5°F (38.6°C), or if your vomiting is stopping you from holding down liquids.

What to eat when you have food poisoning

With nausea after eating and other symptoms of food poisoning, eating is usually the last thing on your mind. However, once you feel you are able to eat, you should try light, bland meals such as toast, bananas, or rice until you begin to feel better.

As diarrhea and vomiting are two symptoms of a foodborne illness that make you dehydrated, it is vital that you drink plenty of clear liquids to rehydrate yourself. If you feel you need it, you can also visit your local drug store to get oral rehydration solutions. 

What not to eat when you have food poisoning

After having food poisoning, it is best to avoid foods that may continue to cause nausea and bloating. In general, it is advised that you do not eat dairy foods, foods that are high in fat, and spicy foods. Some specific foods that cause bloating after food poisoning to avoid are apples, beans, cabbage, onions, and garlic.

In addition to these foods, you should try to avoid drinking coffee, dark sodas, milk, and caffeinated tea.

Who should you contact?

If you have any of the symptoms mentioned above, you should then contact your doctor or healthcare provider. Different countries have different agencies to investigate and monitor any foodborne illness outbreaks in their country. For example, in the United States, the FDA (Food & Drug Administration) has a designated group — Coordinated Outbreak Response and Evaluation (CORE) Network to do just this. Once your healthcare provider detects a possibility of a foodborne illness outbreak, they are responsible for contacting the relevant authorities to investigate and find the root cause.

New Technology

For years food handlers have struggled to keep on top of their food safety management, making sure they adhere to local regulations and maintain safe practices.

Fortunately, the world has progressed, and gone are the days of filling out sheet after sheet of paper to make sure your team is on top of your food safety guidelines. We now have the technology available to digitize all of your food safety documents, meaning it has never been easier to prepare safe food!



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