Public health entities are reminding the public this holiday season that foodborne illnesses can spoil good times with family, friends and food if proper food safety is not observed, officials said in a Nov. 15 release from Harris County Public Health.

Foodborne illness, or food poisoning, can cause various symptoms, including nausea, vomiting, diarrhea and fever—and in severe cases, it leads to hospitalization or even death, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The agency cites two major groups of foodborne illnesses: pathogens and unspecified agents.

The CDC reports foodborne illness affects 48 million annually, which roughly translates to 1 out of every 6 Americans. As many as 128,000 are hospitalized, and 3,000 die from foodborne diseases each year in the United States.

Who it affects

Some foodborne bacteria, such as listeria, are particularly dangerous to children, the elderly, pregnant women and persons with immune disorders. Most recent outbreaks have been linked to soft cheeses and raw produce, according to the CDC.
  • Adults aged 65 years and older are among the groups most affected, as they are four times more likely to get listeria infection than the general population.
  • Pregnant women are 10 times more likely to get it, and pregnant Hispanic women are 24 times more likely.
  • Newborns and people with other health conditions that weaken their immune systems account for at least 90% of reported listeria infections.
The CDC’s Vital Signs report highlights the need to educate these groups about how to prevent listeria infections.


Multiple factors, such as improper food handling, preparation and storage, can cause these illnesses, according to Scott Jeansonne, director of the Harris County Public Health’s Environmental Public Health division.

“We know that preparing large home-cooked meals for families and friends is popular at this time of the year. Because of this, it is important for meal preparers at home to follow a few basic rules to prevent themselves and others from getting sick during the holidays,” Jeansonne said in the release.

Jeansonne’s division provides food safety management training and routine inspections for local food establishments.

The cause

Food poisoning is inflammation of the stomach and intestine caused by bacteria from food. While you can’t see the bacteria, they often can have a huge effect on the body. Many different types of bacteria can cause food poisoning, according to Texas Children’s Hospital’s Dr. Joseph Allen, medical director of the Emergency Department West Campus.

Texas Health and Human Services lists the following type of foodborne illness causes on their website:
  • Amebiasis
  • Botulism
  • Campylobacteriosis
  • Cholera
  • Cryptosporidiosis
  • Cyclosporiasis
  • E. coli O157:H7
  • Hepatitis A
  • Listeriosis
  • Salmonellosis
  • Shigellosis
  • Typhoid fever
  • Vibrio infections
What to know

These four food safety tips are recommended by the CDC:
  • Clean: Wash your hands for at least 20 seconds with soap and water before and after handling food, and clean any food contact surfaces, such as cutting boards and countertops, with hot, soapy water.
  • Separate: Keep all raw and cooked foods separate to avoid cross-contamination, which can occur when foods such as raw meat, poultry and seafood come in contact with cooked foods, as harmful bacteria can be transferred from one to the other during preparation and storage.
  • Cook: Cook food thoroughly to the right temperature by using a food thermometer to ensure that meat, poultry and seafood are cooked to a safe internal temperature. For meat and poultry, internal temperature should be 165 F. For seafood, the safe internal temperature is 145 F.
  • Chill: Refrigerate food promptly to prevent bacteria from multiplying, as bacteria can grow rapidly in temperature ranges from 40 F and 140 F. Refrigerate or freeze perishable foods within two hours of cooking or serving.
To thaw frozen food safely, place it in the refrigerator, in cold water or in the microwave. The CDC advised food should never be thawed at room temperature.

For more information on food safety, visit To report food poisoning from a food establishment, visit or call 713-274-6300.