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Food Safety

These Are the Groups Most Likely to Get Food Poisoning

Robert Tauxe, M.D.

Director, CDC Division of Foodborne, Waterborne, and Environmental Diseases

Food poisoning can strike anyone, but certain groups of people are more likely to get sick – and to have more severe symptoms. It’s important to know if you or someone you care for is in one of these groups, so you can take extra care when choosing and preparing food.

People at risk

People in these groups are most at risk:

  • Children under 5 years
  • Adults 65 or older
  • People with immune systems weakened by medical conditions such as cancer, diabetes and HIV/AIDS, or by treatments such as chemotherapy
  • Pregnant women

Why are some groups of people more likely to get sick? Their immune systems aren’t as effective in fighting off some infections for a variety of reasons. For example, immune systems are still developing in young children. Food poisoning can be particularly dangerous for them, because illness can lead to diarrhea and dehydration. Older adults have a higher risk because as people age, their immune systems and organs aren’t as good at recognizing and getting rid of harmful germs. Pregnant women are more vulnerable to some infectious diseases. Even if a pregnant woman with Listeria infection has only mild symptoms, her fetus or infant could be seriously hurt.

The right foods

Just as some groups are more likely to get a foodborne infection, some foods are more associated with illness. Foods that come from animals may have germs that live in animals, and cooking kills these germs. If you want to keep healthy, you can avoid these foods. In particular, people in high-risk groups should not eat raw or undercooked meat, poultry, eggs, or seafood; raw or lightly cooked sprouts; unpasteurized (raw) milk and juices; and soft cheeses like queso fresco made with unpasteurized milk.

These easy tips can protect you and your loved ones from food poisoning:

  • Wash your hands and kitchen surfaces often, including utensils and cutting boards.
  • Separate raw meat, poultry, seafood, and eggs from ready-to-eat foods in shopping carts, refrigerators, and meal preparation areas.
  • Cook to the right internal temperature to kill harmful germs. Use a food thermometer to check.
  • Keep your refrigerator below 40°F. Refrigerate leftovers within 2 hours of cooking.

Food poisoning may cause symptoms like diarrhea, vomiting, upset stomach or nausea. For many people, symptoms will improve on their own after a few days of rest and fluids. See your doctor if you have a high fever (over 101.5°F), bloody diarrhea, continued vomiting that prevents keeping liquid down, diarrhea for more than three days or signs of dehydration. Signs of dehydration include making very little urine, a dry mouth and throat, or feeling dizzy when standing up.

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