Long Term Health Consequences of a Foodborne Illness

With 1 in 6 Americans developing food poisoning each year, or more accurately foodborne illness, it is not something to be taken lightly!
Long Term Health Consequences of a Foodborne Illness - Articles


Foodborne Illness Symptoms, USDA

It must have been something I ate! That chicken salad from the restaurant we went to last night made me sick! We have all probably said something similar when that queasy feeling in our stomach seemingly occurs out of nowhere. Whether that upset stomach was or was not caused by food you ate, food poisoning or more accurately, foodborne illness is not something to take lightly.

Foodborne illness outbreaks heard about in the news are mainly the large nationwide outbreaks, affecting hundreds of people throughout the country. What we do not hear about are the more localized outbreaks, effecting maybe 5 to 10 people occurring after eating at a local restaurant or consuming mishandled food in the home.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimated numbers for foodborne illness each year include:

  • 48 million cases
  • 128,000 hospitalizations
  • 3000 deaths
  • $78 billion in lost productivity, medical expenses, premature death, pain and suffering

One can see why part of Healthy People 2020 goals and the 2015 Dietary Guidelines for Americans are to reduce foodborne illness.

According to the CDC, the most common microorganisms causing foodborne illness are:

  • Norovirus
  • Salmonella
  • Clostridium perfringens
  • Campylobacter
  • Staphylococcus aureus

While not causing as many illnesses, individuals with illnesses caused by the following microorganisms are more likely to be hospitalized.

  • Clostridium botulinum
  • Listeria
  • Eschrichia coli (E. coli)
  • Vibrio

Anyone can become sick from eating contaminated food, the elderly, young children, pregnant women, individuals with a compromised immune system and those with chronic disease are at highest risk. If these individuals contract a foodborne illness, the symptoms are generally more severe and it takes longer for them to recover from the illness.

Remember though, it is not always the last thing you ate that may cause an illness. The onset time for symptoms to occur may be quick, within 30 to 60 minutes, or it may be several weeks until an individual experiences symptoms. This makes it extremely difficult to determine the offending food and the particular microorganism causing the illness. After all, who remembers what they ate 2 or 3 weeks ago!

While the symptoms of an acute illness are bad enough, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea and fever to name a few, the long-term health consequences of a foodborne illness are even more serious. Long term impacts may include the following:

  • Reactive arthritis, an autoimmune disorder causing painful and swollen joints, has a variety of different microorganisms associated with its cause. Anywhere from 2% to 15% of cases result from a previous foodborne illness. Approximately 40% of individuals diagnosed with Guillain-Barre´ Syndrome have Campylobacter as the common trigger for the disease. This syndrome causes paralysis limiting an individual’s mobility.
  • Because of the acute gastroenteritis associated with a foodborne illness, individuals at risk may go on to develop digestive disorders after recovery. Approximately, 17% of all cases of Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) result from a previous foodborne illness. Microorganisms associated with this disorder include E. coli, Salmonella, Campylobacter, Shigella, Norovirus and Giardia. Other long-term complications include Inflammatory Bowel Disease such as Crohn’s and Ulcerative Colitis. There is some emerging evidence that Campylobacter may trigger development of Celiac Disease in those susceptible to this disease.
  • Hemolytic Uremic Syndrome (HUS) is a severe, life threatening illness and is the leading cause of acute kidney failure in children under the age of five. In terms of foodborne pathogens, the main causes are Shiga-toxin producing E. coli and Shigella. Even after recovery, the long-term health risks include renal dysfunction, hypertension, diabetes and central nervous system dysfunction.
  • Cognitive impairment, seizures, epilepsy, visual and hearing impairments are just a few of the neurologic disorders that may occur after a foodborne illness. Of major concern is development of central nervous system infection. In 20% to 67% of neonates, the foodborne pathogen Listeria monocytogenes is the cause of infection. Toxoplasmosis in young children leads to some type of additional impairment in 80% of those infected by age 17. In addition, new research examining the development of psychosocial disorders such as schizophrenia and depression associated with Toxoplasmosis is occurring.

The good news is that food safety from farm to table is a national concern. With new legislation and research, early detection and identification of contaminated foods are improving our food safety system. However, as a consumer we also play a critical role in keeping food safe for family and ourselves. Even if you have never had a foodborne illness, always remember the keys to safe food handling – Clean, Separate, Cook and Chill! Your local Extension Office and our Food Safety website have information on food safety from farm to table, so be food safe and handle foods like your life depended on it, because if may!


Kowalcyk, B. & Batz, M. (2018, March 21). Health at Risk: Long –Term Health Effects of a Foodborne Illness. Partnership for Food Safety Education webinar.

Foodborne Illnesses and Germs, from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2018, February 16).