Causes of food-borne illness in Canada

Food-borne bacteria, viruses and parasites cause illnesses in Canada. Learn about these causes of food-borne illness.

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Food-borne illness in Canada

Canada has a very safe food supply. However, food-borne bacteria, parasites and viruses still cause illnesses in Canada.

Every year, about 4 million (1 in 8) Canadians are affected by a food-borne illness.  Of these, there are about:

  • 11,600 hospitalizations
  • 238 deaths

Our estimates on just how much food-borne illnesses affect Canadians show there is still work to be done to:

  • prevent and control food-borne illness in Canada
  • focus efforts on the bacteria, parasites and viruses that cause the biggest problems
  • better understand food-borne illness when there is no known cause

Known and unknown causes of food-borne illness

Food-borne illness (or food poisoning) can be caused by:

Known causes of food-borne illness

There are at least 30 bacteria, parasites and viruses known to cause food-borne illness. These are called pathogens. Many of these pathogens are tracked by public health surveillance systems that monitor cases of illness.

Unknown causes of food-borne illness

Agents that have not yet been identified can also cause vomiting and diarrhea (acute gastrointestinal illness).

These agents are grouped into the following 4 categories.

  1. There is not enough information to develop an estimate of food-borne illness.
  2. The agents are known but are not recognized as causing food-borne illness.
  3. There is some uncertainty about the ability of some bacteria, chemicals or other substances found in food to cause illness.
  4. The agents have not yet been identified.

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