Taking a Closer Look at the 2 Most Common Foodborne Illnesses

Taking a Closer Look at the 2 Most Common Foodborne Illnesses

Dave Shumaker


By Dave Shumaker

Microbiology Scientist, GOJO Industries

Did you know according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention there are more than 250 different types of foodborne illnesses?1 While that number is staggering, there are two illnesses that account for nearly 70% of all foodborne illness outbreaks in the United States – norovirus and Salmonella. So, what are these foodborne illnesses? How are they transmitted, and how can they possibly be prevented? Let’s take a closer look at each.


Norovirus is responsible for 58% of domestically acquired foodborne illnesses, and nearly half of all foodborne disease outbreaks due to known agents.2

It is a highly contagious virus that is spread commonly through human-to-food-to-human contact in a food service environment due to poor hand hygiene. This virus often survives for weeks in the environment.3 Humans can still be infectious and transfer the virus even if they are not showing any symptoms.

Norovirus spreads easily and quickly, so people can contract it by not only by consuming contaminated foods or beverages, but also from having direct contact with individuals who are infected with the virus or touching surfaces or objects that have norovirus on them as well.

The following are a few ways you can stop the spread of norovirus:

  • Practice proper hand hygiene at key moments, especially after using the bathroom and changing diapers and always before eating, preparing and handling food
  • Wash fruits and vegetables and cook seafood thoroughly
  • Do not prepare food for others when sick
  • Clean and disinfect contaminated surfaces
  • Wash laundry thoroughly4


Each year in the United States, Salmonella is responsible for 1 million foodborne illnesses, 19,000 hospitalizations and 380 deaths.5 In fact, the pathogen accounts for 11% of all foodborne illnesses in the United States.

People become infected with Salmonella by either eating contaminated food that has not been properly cooked or has been contaminated after preparation.6 Salmonella is often found in raw food products that come from animals such as eggs, meat, and unpasteurized milk and dairy products.

While Salmonella is fairly common, measures can be taken to help reduce the risk of infection, such as through proper cooking and holding temperatures. In addition, proper disinfection and sanitization of food contact surfaces (i.e., countertops and cutting boards) helps reduce the risk of cross contamination. Practicing good hand hygiene before eating, and before and after preparing food can also help prevent the spread of this bacterium.

Yes, foodborne illness outbreaks can be common, but it is important to remember that their preventive measures, including the practice of good hand hygiene – washing with soap and water and using an alcohol-based hand sanitizer – we can all take to reduce our risk and help us stay healthy. Learn more about foodborne illnesses and food safety on the GOJO-sponsored website, FoodSafeTruth.com

  1. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Foodborne Germs and Illnesses. Retrieved May 8, 2016, from http://www.cdc.gov/foodsafety/foodborne-germs.html
  2. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Burden of Norovirus Illness and Outbreaks. Retrieved May 8, 2016, from http://www.cdc.gov/norovirus/php/illness-outbreaks.htmlhttp://www.cdc.gov/norovirus/php/illness-outbreaks.html
  3. Angus Knight • John Haines • Ambroos Stals • Dan Li • Mieke Uyttendaele • Alastair Knight • Lee-Ann Jaykus A systematic review of human norovirus survival reveals a greater persistence of human norovirus RT-qPCR signals compared to those of cultivable surrogate viruses. INTERNATIONAL JOURNAL OF FOOD MICROBIOLOGY 216:40-49 • SEPTEMBER 2015.
  4. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Preventing Norovirus Infection. Retrieved July 28, 2016, from http://www.cdc.gov/norovirus/preventing-infection.html
  5. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Salmonella. Retrieved May 17, 2016, from http://www.cdc.gov/salmonella/
  6. Vermont Department of Health. Salmonella. Retrieved May 23, 2016, from http://healthvermont.gov/prevent/salmonella/Salmonella.aspx

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