Find Health Depts.

Every state has a food safety division within its health or agriculture departments.

It's up to you – and your doctor – to report foodborne illness to your state or local health agency so that officials can take action, notify the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and keep more people from getting sick.


Becoming familiar with the symptoms of foodborne illnesses and understanding how to handle them quickly and efficiently may help prevent serious complications.

Important Information: This is general information about foodborne illnesses and is not a substitute for a doctor’s care. Consult a physician immediately if you believe you have a foodborne illness. If you work in a high-risk facility – day care center, nursing home or hospital – you could pose a greater risk to the people around you and should talk to your doctor about having a stool sample tested to assist in diagnosis.




Nausea, vomiting, abdominal cramping, diarrhea, fever, muscle aches, headache.


Treat symptoms. Keep hydrated with plenty of liquids. There is no vaccine or drug to treat people who become sick. Antibiotics will not help because they fight bacteria not viruses.




Diarrhea, fever, abdominal cramps, vomiting.


If salmonella has not entered your bloodstream, you can treat symptoms by staying hydrated and using anti-diarrheals (these relieve cramping but may prolong the diarrhea). If salmonella is in your bloodstream or if you have a weakened immune system, your doctor may prescribe antibiotics. For people who don't meet these criteria, antibiotics may lengthen the time they carry the disease, which can result in relapse or passing the infection on to others.


Clostridium perfringens


Watery diarrhea, nausea, abdominal cramps, fever (rare).


Symptoms are treated. Antibiotics are not typically used.


Campylobacter spp.


Bloody diarrhea, cramps, fever, vomiting.


Symptoms are treated for most cases. In severe cases, antibiotics can be used early in the diarrheal disease.


Staphylococcus aureus


Sudden intense nausea and vomiting, abdominal cramps, diarrhea, fever.


Treat symptoms. Rest and hydrate. The bacteria are not making you sick — the toxins the bacteria produce are — so antibiotics are not useful.


Toxoplasma gondii


Flu-like, including aches, swollen lymph nodes, headache, fever, fatigue, sore throat. People with weakened immune systems may experience headache, confusion, poor coordination, seizures, lung problems or blurry vision. These people should see a doctor immediately if they suspect an infection. Pregnant women also should visit a doctor because of the serious effects this infection can have on the fetus.


Most healthy people recover without treatment. There are drugs for severe infections. Pregnant women and people with weakened immune systems should get treatment as soon as possible.

E. coli

E. coli (STEC) O157


Bloody diarrhea, abdominal cramps, vomiting. There is usually no fever.


Treat symptoms. Antibiotics are not usually given because some studies show this may promote the development of hemolytic-uremic syndrome, which can cause kidney failure.


Listeria monocytogenes


Fever, muscle aches, nausea, diarrhea. Pregnant women may have a mild flu-like illness.


Antibiotics taken as soon as possible can cure the illness and prevent infection to the fetus.

Smart Shopping

Be aware of potential safety risks when purchasing food at grocery stores and farmers markets and from wholesalers.

Know the Recalls

Visit the Food and Drug Administration and Food Safety and Inspection Service websites for the latest food and drug recalls. You can also subscribe to email alerts on both sites.

Follow @USDAFoodSafety and @FDArecalls on twitter to get the latest recall information.

Check for notices at your local grocery store — or restaurants — indicating a recall.

FSIS recommends: If you sense there's a problem with any food product, don't consume it. 'When in doubt, throw it out.'

FSIS also maintains a list of additional recall resources.

Learn the Labels

Do not eat or taste food from cans that bulge or leak or that have a sticky residue or have an unusual smell. The food could be contaminated.

Read food packaging labels for instructions on how to store foods after opening and for expiration dates.

Note the different types of expiration jargon. FSIS provides a list of what to look for:

Patricia Buck, director of Outreach & Education at the Center for Foodborne Illness Research & Prevention, recommends the following shopping tips:

Risky Foods

It's important to remember that certain foods often sold in stores or farmers markets are not always safe for consumers. This includes those who are pregnant, elderly, very young or who have compromised immune systems.

Washington State University's School of Food Science recommends the following precautions for eating potentially risky foods:

If you're pregnant, elderly or have a compromised immune system:

Ohio State University’s Agricultural Research and Development Center lists the following as risky foods for children:

Food Preparation

Avoid contamination from food handlers, other foods and the surrounding environment.

Defrosting, Cooking and Chilling



Additional tips from the Washington State Department of Health


News21 is a national initiative led by 12 of America’s leading research universities with the support of two major foundations – the Carnegie Corporation of New York and the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation – that emphasizes innovative, hands-on journalism study and practice.

In summer 2011, fellows from five universities worked out of newsrooms at Arizona State's Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication and Maryland's Philip Merrill College of Journalism to report on the safety of America's food supply.

About This App

Research, reporting and project management:

Joanne Ingram

Additional research:

Rachel Albin, Jessica Testa and Serena del Mundo

Web Development:

Mark Ng


Kyle Bruggeman