If you’re in the process of completing a food safety course or work in a commercial kitchen or another environment where you handle food, you’ll be aware of the importance of safe hygiene and food safety practices. Food that is not prepared and handled with care to nationally recognised food safety standards can be at risk of being infected with pathogens that can be extremely dangerous when consumed. Let’s take a look at the most dangerous and most common pathogens that cause food-borne illnesses.


Salmonella is one of the most common food-borne pathogens in Australia and is mostly found in raw animal food products, such as meat, eggs and unpasteurised dairy.

Between 12-72 hours after being infected with Salmonella from contaminated food, the symptoms most people experience are fever, abdominal cramps and diarrhoea. These symptoms usually last between four and seven days and most people do not require hospital treatment. In some instances, however, a person’s diarrhoea symptoms may be so severe that they require admission to hospital. In this case, the infection may have spread to the bloodstream from the intestines and then throughout the body which can be fatal unless the patient is treated immediately with antibiotics. Populations that are more at risk from being infected with Salmonella are pregnant women, children and elderly people.


Campylobacter is a bacteria that, upon entering a person’s body, can cause a disease called Campylobacteriosis. Campylobacter is most commonly found on undercooked or raw meats (particularly poultry) and unpasteurised dairy and can also be transmitted through contact with infected infants, farm animals and pets.

The symptoms of Campylobacteriosis are similar to Salmonella and include abdominal cramps, diarrhoea and fever, which can develop between 2-5 days after infection. A person with Campylobacteriosis may experience bloody diarrhoea, vomiting and nausea that may last for about a week. Some people who are infected by Campylobacter, however, may not experience any symptoms at all, but others with weaker immune systems may be at serious risk if the bacteria spreads to their bloodstream.

The most vulnerable populations for being infected by Campylobacter are elderly people and children under the age of 5.

E. coli

E. coli, or Escherichia coli, are a group of bacteria that are both large and diverse. Many strains of E. coli are harmless but others can make you seriously ill. E. coli can cause illnesses such as urinary tract infections, diarrhoea, pneumonia and other respiratory illnesses.

The most dangerous strains of E. coli cause illness by creating a harmful toxin called ‘Shiga toxin’. These strains of E. coli are referred to as ‘Shiga toxin-producing E. coli’ (STEC). STEC symptoms can be very severe and include bloody diarrhoea, stomach cramps and vomiting. More serious symptoms of STEC can result in diseases such as hemolytic uremic syndrome, a form of kidney failure.

E. coli can infect people of all ages, but elderly people and children under 5 are more likely to develop serious illnesses.

Listeria monocytogenes

Listeria monocytogenes is a strain of bacteria that can cause a serious infection called Listeriosis when consumed in infected food.

Symptoms of Listeriosis include muscle aches, fever and occasionally gastrointestinal infections and diarrhoea. Symptoms vary from person to person but most people suffer from an ‘invasive’ infection, in which the Listeria monocytogenes bacteria has spread beyond the gastrointestinal tract.

Listeriosis is an extremely serious condition in pregnant women, who, along with experiencing common symptoms such as muscle aches and fever, may suffer from a stillbirth, miscarriage or premature delivery. In some cases, their newborn may suffer from a fatal infection.

Other symptoms suffered by infected people include a stiffness of the neck, headache, loss of balance, confusion and convulsions. In elderly people and people with weaker immune systems, Listeriosis can lead to other serious conditions such as meningitis and septicemia.

If you’re interested in taking Nationally Accredited food safety courses online to prevent the spread of these pathogens, we offer a range of courses at the Australian Institute of Accreditation for specific industries such as hospitality and retail. With no hidden costs, we are an accreditation service you can trust.