Food poisoning is an illness that results from consumption of food that has been improperly prepared or stored, allowing pathogenic bacteria to grow in the food. It is usually distinguished from diseases such as hepatitis, in which food is a vector for transmission of disease between humans.

Symptoms begin several hours after ingestion and include nausea and diarrhea. Most cases of food poisoning spontaneously resolve themselves, but food poisoning can result in death, especially in infants, the elderly, and other people who have weak immune systems. Food poisoning that results from a restaurant or other commercial eating place is especially of concern, as it can affect large numbers of people. Improperly stored food served at picnics can also poison large numbers of people: the majority of these poisonings come from umproperly stored meat. Potato salad and macaroni salad can also be risky if made from homemade mayonnaise containing raw eggs (factory produced mayonnaise is safe).

Typically food poisioning can be prevented by taking simple precautions. First, do not allow raw or partially cooked animal products to touch dishes or utensils used to handle fully cooked food. This prevents cross-contamination. Second, cook foods fully to kill pathogens. Most organisms that cause food poisoning are killed at a temperature of 170F or so. However, the actual internal temperature of meat products need not be that high, since most contamination comes from fecal matter that is on the outside. Finally, keep hot foods hot and cold foods cold. Once the temperature drops below 170F or rise above 40F, bacterial growth can resume, even on previously uncontaminated foods.

Common forms of food poisoning include botulism, which is caused by an anaerobic organism that can grow in improperly sealed or dented cans; salmonella; Campylobacter; and E. coli infection.

Political issues

An example of a political issue surrounding food poisoning occured in the United States. In 2001, the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) petitioned the United States Department of Agriculture to to require meat packers to remove entire spinal columns before processing cattle carcasses for human consumption (a measure designed to lessen the risk of infection by variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease). The petition was supported by the American Public Health Association, the Consumer Federation of America, the Government Accountability Project, the National Consumers League, and Safe Tables Our Priority. On the other hand, the petition was opposed by the National Cattlemen's Beef Association, the National Renderers Association, the National Meat Association, the Pork Producers Council, sheep raisers, milk producers, the Turkey Federation, and eight other organizations from the animal-derived food industry. This was part of a larger controversy regarding the United State's violation of World Health Organization proscriptions to lessen the risk of infection by variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease (Greger, 2003).