Blame it on the Burger

(Or not?)

By Linda Jackson on 05 April 2017

So, you suspect you ate something that didn’t agree with you after you spent one-on-one time with the white bowl in the early hours of the morning. But can you blame it on the burger? Any investigation will start with a list of suspects and clues from the scene of the crime.

This article gives you the clues in helping you to identify if it was that burger that made you ill and if so what to do about it.

The table below, provided by the FDA in the USA provides a comprehensive list of possible suspects and their tell tale clues.

Before you start screaming hysterically let’s focus on some specific take-aways:


1. Time for the onset of symptoms.

It is not usually immediate so be aware that it may not have been the burger but possibly the under done eggs you ordered for breakfast.


2. State of health

You can clearly see that food borne illness most commonly hits the young, the old, the immunocompromised person including pregnant moms. Rather don’t ignore symptoms in these cases – see your doctor. Also be careful to dismiss the cause if only one member of the family is unwell. If you are all sick even more reason to get to the doctor as 2 people suffering from the same symptoms associated with the same event/food constitutes an outbreak and is reportable by law.


3. Foods that are high risk

The last column clearly shows the foods MOST commonly associated with the kind of organism. You can therefore avoid certain items to avoid the risk. It might also help you identify the cause.


4. Taking it further

Once you have narrowed the source down, you should report it. The first port of call is where you suspect you were infected. If it is a product you bought and ate at home, be sure to report it back to the retailer. Be prepared for lots of questions as they also know this information about the nasties and they will want to confirm that it may be them. If it’s a product it is likely that they will ask you for the left overs to test it to confirm your allegations. You can also report this to your local Environmental health practioner who will be at your local municipality.


Also, be aware the ONLY way to confirm this is true would be to test your vomit or stool and the product to find the matching bugs. Yes, it’s gross – but evidence is essential. If we don’t have it we can’t proceed.

You will need to follow the channels.


5. You are the culprit and the victim

If you narrow if down to your own handiwork, don’t feel alone. The CDC latest report identified 16 outbreaks involving 168 people where the source was a private home. We have to make sure we follow good hygiene practices in our own homes too. More on that in another article.



Common Name
of Illness

Onset Time
After Ingesting

Signs &



Bacillus cereus

B. cereus food poisoning

10-16 hrs

Abdominal cramps, watery diarrhea, nausea

24-48 hours

Meats, stews, gravies, vanilla sauce

Campylobacter jejuni


2-5 days

Diarrhea, cramps, fever, and vomiting; diarrhea may be bloody

2-10 days

Raw and undercooked poultry, unpasteurized milk,contaminated water



12-72 hours

Vomiting, diarrhea, blurred vision, double vision, difficulty in swallowing, muscle weakness. Can result in respiratory failure and death


Improperly canned foods, especially home-canned vegetables, fermented fish, baked potatoes in aluminum foil


Perfringens food

8–16 hours

Intense abdominal cramps, watery diarrhea

Usually 24

Meats, poultry, gravy, dried or precooked foods, time and/or temperature-abused foods



2-10 days

Diarrhea (usually watery), stomach cramps, upset stomach, slight fever

May be remitting and relapsing over weeks to months

Uncooked food or food contaminated by an ill food handler after cooking, contaminated drinking water



1-14 days, usually at least 1 week

Diarrhea (usually watery), loss of appetite, substantial loss of weight, stomach cramps, nausea, vomiting, fatigue

May be remitting and relapsing over weeks to months

Various types of fresh produce (imported berries, lettuce, basil)

E. coli
(Escherichia coli)

producing toxin

E. coli infection
(common cause of
“travelers’ diarrhea”)

1-3 days

Watery diarrhea, abdominal cramps, some vomiting

3-7 or more days

Water or food contaminated with human feces

E. coli O157:H7

Hemorrhagic colitis
or E. coli O157:H7 infection

1-8 days

Severe (often bloody) diarrhea, abdominal pain and vomiting. Usually, little or no fever is present. More common in children 4 years or younger. Can lead to kidney failure.

5-10 days

Undercooked beef (especially hamburger), unpasteurized milk and juice, raw fruits and vegetables (e.g. sprouts), and contaminated water

Hepatitis A


28 days average (15-50 days)

Diarrhea, dark urine, jaundice, and flu-like symptoms, i.e., fever, headache, nausea, and abdominal pain

Variable, 2 weeks-3 months

Raw produce, contaminated drinking water, uncooked foods and cooked foods that are not reheated after contact with an infected food handler; shellfish from contaminated waters



9-48 hrs for gastro-intestinal symptoms, 2-6 weeks for invasive disease

Fever, muscle aches, and nausea or diarrhea. Pregnant women may have mild flu-like illness, and infection can lead to premature delivery or stillbirth. The elderly or immunocompromised patients may develop bacteremia or meningitis.


Unpasteurized milk, soft cheeses made with unpasteurized milk, ready-to-eat deli meats


Variously called viral gastroenteritis, winter diarrhea, acute non- bacterial gastroenteritis, food poisoning, and food infection

12-48 hrs

Nausea, vomiting, abdominal cramping, diarrhea, fever, headache. Diarrhea is more prevalent in adults, vomiting more common in children.

12-60 hrs

Raw produce, contaminated drinking water, uncooked foods and cooked foods that are not reheated after contact with an infected food handler; shellfish from contaminated waters



6-48 hours

Diarrhea, fever, abdominal cramps, vomiting

4-7 days

Eggs, poultry, meat, unpasteurized milk or juice, cheese, contaminated raw fruits and vegetables


Shigellosis or Bacillary dysentery

4-7 days

Abdominal cramps, fever, and diarrhea. Stools may contain blood and mucus.

24-48 hrs

Raw produce, contaminated drinking water, uncooked foods and cooked foods that are not reheated after contact with an infected food handler

Staphylococcus aureus

Staphylococcal food poisoning

1-6 hours

Sudden onset of severe nausea and vomiting. Abdominal cramps. Diarrhea and fever may be present.

24-48 hours

Unrefrigerated or improperly refrigerated meats, potato and egg salads, cream pastries


V. parahaemolyticus infection

4-96 hours

Watery (occasionally bloody) diarrhea, abdominal cramps, nausea, vomiting, fever

2-5 days

Undercooked or raw seafood, such as shellfish

Vibrio vulnificus

V. vulnificus infection

1-7 days

Vomiting, diarrhea, abdominal pain, bloodborne infection. Fever, bleeding within the skin, ulcers requiring surgical removal. Can be fatal to persons with liver disease or weakened immune systems.

2-8 days

Undercooked or raw seafood, such as shellfish (especially oysters)





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