Effective Ways You Can Prevent the Big 6 Foodborne Pathogens


According to information from the CDC, experts have pinpointed more than 250 food-related illnesses. While knowing about all of these might not be feasible, it’s essential to be aware of the 6 most prevalent ones, often referred to as the “Big 6.” The big 6 foodborne pathogens are Salmonella, Salmonella typhi (Typhoid), Shigella, E. coli, Norovirus, and Hepatitis A. If you don’t have effective food safety measures in place, these harmful microorganisms can easily enter the food you’re providing and cause sickness among your customers.

The Basics of the Big 6 Foodborne Pathogens

Here’s a fundamental overview to help you safeguard your family by knowing what the big 6 foodborne pathogens are:


In the United States, Norovirus stands as the most frequent viral stomach bug, causing rapid and intense diarrhea as well as forceful vomiting. Its contagious nature makes it particularly concerning.

Norovirus can stem from foods ready to eat, polluted water, and raw shellfish sourced from contaminated waters. People who handle food while infected can pass on the virus. The common modes of transmission include person-to-person contact through contaminated hands, poor personal hygiene, inadequate handwashing, and direct hand-to-mouth contact.

Signs and Symptoms of Norovirus:

  • Feeling of nausea
  • Forceful vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Abdominal discomfort
  • Slight feverish feelings

Hepatitis A

Hepatitis A is a liver infection caused by a virus that is found worldwide, particularly in places with inadequate sanitation. It often spreads from one person to another through contact with contaminated feces, and it’s linked to poor hand hygiene and direct hand contact. Infected individuals can be highly contagious even if they don’t exhibit symptoms for several weeks. It’s important to note that cooking does NOT eliminate this virus.

Common Signs of Hepatitis A:

  • Elevated body temperature (fever)
  • Feeling of nausea
  • Abdominal discomfort
  • Jaundice

E. coli

While many forms of Escherichia coli bacteria are harmless and play a vital role in a healthy digestive system, certain types can result in serious infections. Among them, E. coli 0157:H7, the most infamous, produces a harmful toxin called Shiga toxin-producing E. coli (STEC), which can cause severe complications like bloody diarrhea, kidney issues, and even death.

E. coli can be found in various sources, but the primary culprits include undercooked ground beef, unpasteurized milk and juice, soft cheeses crafted from raw milk, and uncooked fruits and vegetables (notably, in 2018, there were two separate outbreaks tied to Romaine lettuce).

Common Signs:

  • Diarrhea
  • Vomiting
  • Fever
  • Abdominal discomfort


Salmonella, a type of bacteria, is estimated to be the cause of around 1.2 million illnesses and nearly 450 deaths annually. It can also be transmitted through contact with animals like baby chicks, ducks, turtles, and amphibians, as well as through pet food and treats.

Almost any kind of food, be it meats, poultry, eggs, unpasteurized milk or juice, cheese, or even raw fruits, vegetables, spices, and nuts, can be contaminated by Salmonella. What’s more, juices from raw meat or poultry can spread the bacteria on kitchen surfaces, potentially leading to the transmission of Salmonella. Cooking and pasteurization effectively eliminate it.

Signs and Symptoms:

  • Fever
  • Bellyaches
  • Strong tummy pain
  • Bad diarrhea
  • Throwing up a lot

Salmonella Typhi

Typhoid fever comes from a bacteria called Salmonella Typhi. In the US, most cases happen to people who’ve been to places where it’s common. People who get sick can pass it through food. Doctors often give antibiotics to treat typhoid fever.


  • High body temperature and fever
  • Belly pain
  • Loose stools (diarrhea)
  • Throwing up
  • Feeling confused
  • Pink spots on the skin


Shigella bacteria lead to an illness known as shigellosis. This happens when food workers, who carry these bacteria, don’t wash hands after using the restroom. Flies landing on food can also spread it. Usually, people get better on their own, but some vulnerable groups might need antibiotics.

Signs and Symptoms:

  • Diarrhea (could have blood)
  • Fever
  • Bad tummy cramps

How to Prevent the Big 6 Foodborne Illnesses

Preventing Cross Contamination: To control cross contamination, it’s essential to prevent raw animal products from coming into contact with cooked foods or ready-to-eat items. This involves using separate cutting boards and knives when working with these different types of ingredients. If switching between animal products and produce, ensure thorough washing and sanitizing.

Effective Handwashing: The simplest and most crucial method to minimize the spread of foodborne illnesses is proper handwashing. Wash your hands under hot water for at least twenty seconds, significantly reducing the number of germs present.

Keeping Your Kitchen Clean: Maintain a hygienic kitchen environment by storing food in sealed containers to prevent spills and discourage pests. Regularly clean and sanitize all surfaces that come into contact with food, especially after cooking. For effective sanitization, consider using unscented bleach suitable for food contact surfaces. Dilute it with water as directed on the label.

As stated in the 2013 Food Code by the Food & Drug Administration, the expenses linked to foodborne illness in relation to patient discomfort, lower efficiency, and medical costs sum up to about $10 to $83 billion each year. This impacts 1 out of every 6 Americans, leading to around 128,000 hospitalizations and 3,000 fatalities. Despite these seemingly disheartening figures, it’s important to note that foodborne illness can be avoided with proper methods, such as the ones listed above.

Don’t Let the Big 6 Foodborne Illnesses Hold You Down

Protect your health and those around you by taking simple yet impactful steps to prevent the Big 6 foodborne illnesses. Remember, basic practices like avoiding cross contamination, washing your hands thoroughly, and maintaining a clean kitchen play a vital role in safeguarding against these harmful pathogens. By following these guidelines, you can ensure the safety of your food and prevent the spread of illnesses. Stay informed, stay safe, and contribute to healthier communities for everyone.


Scroll to Top