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Foodborne illness is caused by consuming contaminated foods or beverages. Many different disease-causing microbes or pathogens can contaminate foods, so there are many different types of foodborne illnesses. Foodborne illness, caused by a variety of bacteria, viruses, and parasites, can be caused by consuming improperly prepared food items, poor hygiene among food handlers, or contamination in food processing facilities or farms. Many foodborne pathogens also can be acquired through recreational or drinking water, from contact with animals or their environment, or through person-to-person spread.
Some of the foodborne diseases reported to NJDOH include:
After eating contaminated food, people can develop anything from a short, mild illness, often mistakenly referred to as "food poisoning," to life-threatening disease. CDC estimates that 76 million Americans get sick, more than 300,000 are hospitalized, and 5,000 people die from foodborne illnesses each year.
Foodborne Disease Outbreaks
An outbreak of foodborne illness occurs when a group of people consume the same contaminated food and two or more of them come down with the same illness. It may be a group that ate a meal together somewhere, or it may be a group of people who do not know each other at all, but who all happened to buy and eat the same contaminated item from a grocery store or restaurant. For an outbreak to occur, something must have happened to contaminate a batch of food that was eaten by a group of people. Often, a combination of events contributes to the outbreak.
Many outbreaks are local in nature. They are recognized when a group of people realize that they all became ill after a common meal. For example, a local outbreak might follow a catered meal at a reception, a pot-luck supper, or eating a meal at an understaffed restaurant on a particularly busy day. However, outbreaks are increasingly being recognized that are more widespread, that affect persons in many different places, and that are spread out over several weeks. For example, an outbreak of salmonellosis was traced to persons eating a breakfast cereal produced at a factory in Minnesota, and marketed under several different brand names in many different states. No one county or state had very many cases and the cases did not know each other.
The Infectious and Zoonotic Disease Program (IZDP) of the Communicable Disease Service has staff that is available to consult with healthcare professionals, local health departments and other agencies on foodborne illness issues. The IZDP staff performs surveillance of foodborne illness cases and acts as the New Jersey lead agency in multi-jurisdictional investigations.