Spotting a Foodborne Illness


Earlier this month, health officials warned that shoppers at a Costco store in Lynwood, Washington had become sick after consuming the rotisserie chicken salad. In this blog we’ll dive into some of the details of foodborne illness and considerations for bringing a case after consuming a contaminated product.

It seems like every month there is a new story of contaminated food and a salmonella or other food-borne pathogen outbreak. Last year 45 people were sickened by E. coli from Chipotle in six regions including Washington and Oregon.

According to the Centers for Disease Control, there are 31 pathogens that are known to cause foodborne illnesses. On top of that, there are a number of “unspecified agents” which have not yet been identified or tracked but may cause foodborne illnesses. The pathogen that causes the most illnesses is the norovirus, which causes an inflammation of the gastrointestinal tract. The second most common pathogen is salmonella.

Foodborne illnesses are not only caused by meat, but can also be passed on from fruits and vegetables. Food can become contaminated if it’s washed with contaminated water, or if meat is infected during processing. When large scale foodborne illnesses occur, the CDC typically investigates the outbreak in order to identify the cause and to help reduce further spread. Symptoms of a foodborne illness can include: nausea, abdominal cramps, fever and headaches.

The CDC estimates that 47.8 million Americans, or one in six, get sick every year from foodborne illnesses. Approximately 128,000 of those Americans are hospitalized and 3,000 die each year from illnesses caused by food. Anyone can be susceptible to foodborne illnesses, but pregnant women, children, the elderly and people with weakened immune systems are particularly at risk.

Some ways to prevent foodborne illness include: thawing food in the refrigerator or microwave instead of on the counter, using separate cutting boards for meat and vegetables and refrigerating leftovers as quickly as possible after meals. For more tips, click here.

If you have experienced the discomfort of a foodborne illness, you may wonder if you have a case against the corporation whose product sickened you. There is no hard and fast rule. The answer depends on the circumstances of your illness, such as how soon after consuming the product you got sick, if the particular strain of microbe is linked to an outbreak, among others. Proving foodborne illness cases can be difficult – you must show that the food that you ate was contaminated and that it caused you to become sick.