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What is Food Poisoning?

Food poisoning (also called "foodborne illness") is caused by consuming foods contaminated with disease-causing microbes (pathogens), such as bacteria. Foodborne viruses, parasites, and other toxins (poisonous chemicals or harmful substances produced by microbes and other living cells or organisms) can also cause illness. Because microbes can spread in various ways, it is not always certain whether or not a disease is foodborne.

More than 250 different types of food poisoning have been identified. Because different diseases have different symptoms, there is no one "syndrome" that can be referred to as "food poisoning" or "foodborne illness". However, microbes or toxins usually enter the body through the gastrointestinal tract, often causing common symptoms, such as nausea, vomiting, abdominal cramps, and diarrhea.

An estimated 76 million cases of foodborne disease occur each year in the United States. The great majority of these cases are mild and cause symptoms for only a day or two. Some cases are more serious. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that there are 325,000 hospitalizations and 5,000 deaths related to foodborne diseases each year. The most severe cases tend to occur in the very old, the very young, those who have an illness already that reduces their immune system function, and in healthy people exposed to a very high dose of an organism.

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