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Most common and harmful foodborne pathogens

Most common and harmful foodborne pathogens

Most common and harmful foodborne pathogens

Foodborne disease is caused by harmful bacteria and other pathogens spreading and multiplying. Improper food handling, cooking, and cooling can cause foodborne illness. The following pathogens are the ones responsible for the majority of foodborne illnesses.


Salmonella is the most common and probably the most heard of bacterium responsible for foodborne illness and even deaths. This pathogen is responsible for 1.4 million cases of foodborne illness annually. Salmonella affects those with a debilitated immune system more severely such as children, pregnant women, and older adults.

Sources: Raw and undercooked eggs, meat, poultry, dairy products, and fresh fruits and vegetables


The most common bacterial cause of diarrhea in the United States, campylobacter is a harmful pathogen that mostly affects children under age 1.

Sources: Raw and undercooked meat and poultry, untreated water, and raw milk


Responsible for approximately 448,000 cases of diarrhea annually, Shigella is easily transmitted from person to person through food when poor hygiene and hand washing is present.

Sources:  Unclean water, salads, dairy products, ground beef, raw oysters, poultry and any other food handed by someone infected with the pathogen

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Staphylococcus aureus

Also known as Staph, this bacterium can be found on the skin, throat, and nasal passages of humans. It usually isn’t harmful until it is transferred to food bya person where it can multiply and make a toxin that causes foodborne disease.

Sources: Salads, pastries, dairy products, cooked ham, raw meat and poultry, sandwiches and humans (infected cuts, noses, throats, and skin)

Listeria monocytogenes

Listeriosis, a serious infection that mainly affects people with debilitated immune systems such as young children, pregnant women, and older adults can be contracted by consuming food contaminated with Listeria. It has the ability to grow at refrigerator temperatures.

Sources: Refrigerated, ready-to-eat food (deli meats, hot dogs, poultry, seafood) and dairy products


One of the non-bacterial leading causes of foodborne illness that often comes with symptoms comparable to the stomach flu. Norovirus can be easily transmitted from person to person and from contaminated food and beverages.

Sources: Cole slaw, salads, contaminated water and ice, baked goods, shellfish, produce, and raw oysters

These are just a few of the most common and harmful pathogens that cause foodborne illness. By learning safe food handling, you can prevent foodborne illness in your restaurant or home. Get certified in safe food handling with FNA safety’s wide variety of courses available. FNA Safety offers services in certified food protection manager North Carolina, certification in food protection Ohio, and food safety manager Rhode Island. With their knowledgeable team of experts, your success in food safety training is guaranteed.