Every year, 76 million Americans develop food poisoning -- stomachaches, diarrhea, fever, dehydration and nausea from eating or drinking something that contains bacteria, parasites or viruses [source: MedlinePlus].
In most cases, it feels like a bad case of the flu and the best remedy is to get lots of rest and drink plenty of fluids. But for infants and senior citizens with weaker immune systems, hospitalization may be necessary since the infection can spread and even cause death.
The most common food-borne illnesses arise from bacteria like salmonella, shigella and Escherichia coli (E. coli). Raw foods such as uncooked meat, poultry and eggs are the most common source of food-borne illnesses because they aren't sterile [source: National Digestive Diseases Information Clearing House].
Produce such as spinach, lettuce, tomatoes, sprouts and melons also can become contaminated with these bacteria during the growing, harvesting, processing, storing or shipping processes.
And, of course, food can become contaminated during preparation. The most common type of contamination from handled foods is calcivirus, also called the Norwalk-like virus, which is typically caused by bacteria on knives, cutting boards and hands. That's why restaurant workers are instructed to wash their hands continuously, particularly after using the restroom [source: National Digestive Diseases Information Clearing House].
Food left out for more than two hours can become contaminated, as bacteria multiply quickly at room temperature. Refrigeration and freezing slows that process.
Despite all the rules and regulations that govern food handling, food contamination is very common, even in the most developed countries. That's why it's always a good idea to err on the side of caution when something doesn't smell or taste right.
Read on to find out how to work with food safety organizations.