Foodborne illness causes

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Editor-In-Chief: C. Michael Gibson, M.S., M.D. [1]



Bacteria are a common cause of foodborne illness.

Most common bacterial foodborne pathogens are:

Less common bacterial agents:


Mycotoxins and Alimentary Mycotoxicoses

  • Citreoviridin -
  • Fusarochromanone -
  • Lolitrem alkaloids -
  • 3-Nitropropionic acid -
  • Nivalenol -
  • Ochratoxins - In Australia, The Limit of Reporting (LOR) level for Ochratoxin A (OTA) analyses in 20th Australian Total Diet Survey was 1 µg/kg [4], whereas the EC restricts the content of OTA to 5 µg/kg in cereal commodities, 3 µg/kg in processed products and 10 µg/kg in dried vine fruits [5].
  • Oosporeine -
  • Sporidesmin A -
  • Tremorgenic mycotoxins - Five of them have been reported to be associated with molds found in fermented meats. These are Fumitremorgen B, Paxilline, Penitrem A, Verrucosidin, and Verruculogen [6].
  • Zearalenols -

Emerging Foodborne Pathogens

Much is still not known about foodborne illness. Approximately sixty percent of outbreaks are still caused by unknown sources.


  • Enterovirus
  • Hepatitis A is distinguished from other viral causes by its prolonged (2–6 week) incubation period and its ability to spread beyond the stomach and intestines, into the liver. It often induces jaundice, or yellowing of the skin, and rarely leads to chronic liver dysfunction. The virus has been found to cause the infection due to the consumption of fresh-cut produce which has fecal contamination [7], [8].
  • Hepatitis E
  • Norovirus
  • Rotavirus


Most foodborne parasites are zoonoses.




Natural Toxins

Several foods can naturally contain toxins, many of which are not produced by bacteria. Plants in particular may be toxic; animals which are naturally poisonous to eat are rare. In evolutionary terms, animals can escape being eaten by fleeing; plants can use only passive defences such as poisons and distasteful substances, for example capsaicin in chilis and pungent sulphur compounds in garlic and onions. Most animal poisons are not synthesised by the animal, but acquired by eating poisonous plants to which the animal is immune, or by bacterial action.

Some plants contain substances which are toxic in large doses, but have therapeutic properties in appropriate dosages.

Other Pathogenic Agents

Ptomaine Poisoning

An early theory on the causes of food poisoning involved ptomaines, alkaloids found in decaying animal and vegetable matter. While some alkaloids do cause poisoning, the discovery of bacteria left the ptomaine theory obsolete and the word "ptomaine" is no longer used scientifically.


  1. Tribe, Ingrid G.; et al. "An outbreak of Salmonella Typhimurium phage type 135 infection linked to the consumption of raw shell eggs in an aged care facility <internet>". Unknown parameter |accessdaymonth= ignored (help); Unknown parameter |accessyear= ignored (|access-date= suggested) (help)
  2. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. "Salmonella Infection (salmonellosis) and Animals <internet>". Unknown parameter |accessdaymonth= ignored (help); Unknown parameter |accessyear= ignored (|access-date= suggested) (help)
  3. Doyle, M. P. "Reducing the carriage of foodborne pathogens in livestock and poultry <internet>" (PDF). Unknown parameter |accessdaymonth= ignored (help); Unknown parameter |accessyear= ignored (|access-date= suggested) (help); Unknown parameter |coauthors= ignored (help)
  4. Food Standards Australia New Zealand. "20th Australian Total Diet Survey - Part B <internet>". Unknown parameter |accessdaymonth= ignored (help); Unknown parameter |accessyear= ignored (|access-date= suggested) (help)
  5. FAO FOOD AND NUTRITION PAPER 81. "Worldwide regulations for mycotoxins in food and feed in 2003 <internet>". Unknown parameter |accessdaymonth= ignored (help); Unknown parameter |accessyear= ignored (|access-date= suggested) (help)
  6. Sabater-Vilar, M. "Genotoxicity Assessment of Five Tremorgenic Mycotoxins (Fumitremorgen B, Paxilline, Penitrem A, Verruculogen, and Verrucosidin) Produced by Molds Isolated from Fermented Meats <internet>". Unknown parameter |accessdaymonth= ignored (help); Unknown parameter |accessyear= ignored (|access-date= suggested) (help)
  7. Dubois, Eric; et al. "Intra-laboratory validation of a concentration method adapted for the enumeration of infectious F-specific RNA coliphage, enterovirus, and hepatitis A virus from inoculated leaves of salad vegetables <internet>". Unknown parameter |accessdaymonth= ignored (help); Unknown parameter |accessyear= ignored (|access-date= suggested) (help)
  8. Schmidt, Heather Martin. "Improving the microbilological quality and safety of fresh-cut tomatoes by low dose dlectron beam irradiation - Master thesis <internet>" (PDF). Unknown parameter |accessdaymonth= ignored (help); Unknown parameter |accessyear= ignored (|access-date= suggested) (help)