Food Safety, Preparation and Storage Tips
Cooperative Extension, College of Agriculture & Life Sciences, the University of Arizona

What is Food-Borne Illness?

The official definition of a food-borne disease outbreak is when two or more cases of a similar illness result from eating a common food. Each year in the United States between 6.5 to 33 million cases of illness are attributed to food-borne illness and 9,000 people die as the result. The cost of these illnesses is estimated at tens of billions of dollars. Most food-borne diseases are mild and usually go unreported. Many people who think they had the 24-hr flu most likely had a case of food-borne illness. For high risk populations such as young children, the elderly, pregnant women, and people with compromised immune systems and chronic disease, food-borne illness can be life threatening and lethal. Symptoms and their duration can vary depending on the type of organism or toxin eaten. Symptoms include nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, headache, muscle aches, dizziness, tiredness, weakness, and fever. Medical treatment is not practical for most cases of vomiting or diarrhea limited to 24 hours. However, medical treatment is absolutely necessary in cases of prolonged vomiting and/or diarrhea especially in dehydration, presence of bloody diarrhea, and general symptoms which last for 3 days or more. If the person is in one of the high risk groups, see your doctor immediately.

Most food-borne illness results from microorganisms. In the last decade microorganisms were responsible for about 85% cases of reported food-borne disease outbreaks. Consumers can do their part to reduce the risk of food-borne disease by focusing on four critical steps emphasized in the new food safety campaign Fight BacTM sponsored by the Partnership for Food Safety. The steps include:

  1. Clean: wash hands and food contact surfaces
  2. Separate: Don’t cross contaminate
  3. Cook: Cook to proper temperatures
  4. Chill: Refrigerate promptly

For more information: Fight BAC website at or contact your county Cooperative Extension office.


  • Council of Agriculture Science and Technology. 1994. Food-borne Pathogens: Risk and Consequences. Task Force Report No., 122.
  • CDC. 1996. Surveillance for Food-borne Disease Outbreaks in the U.S. 1988-1992. MMWR Surveillance Summaries. Oct 25th, Vol 45, No. SS-5.
  • Cliver, D.O. 1993. Eating Safely: Avoiding Food-borne Illness. 2nd ed. Case, A.G. ed. American Council on Science and Health. New York, NY.
  • National Restaurant Assn. 1993. HACCP Reference Book. Section One. Food Safety Hazards-Food-borne Illness. pp 5-7.
  • Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Food-borne Illness Line

Material written by Mary Abgrall and Scottie Misner, June 1998.
Part of Food Safety Tips, College of Agriculture, The University of Arizona
Document located at
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