Nearly everyone has felt the "It-must-have-been-something-I-ate" feeling deep in the pit of the stomach. It growls. It hurts. You wonder what was in that daily lunch special.

But the culprits are more likely to be found in the kitchen than the corner diner when it comes to food poisoning."Just assume that any piece of raw poultry you handle is contaminated," says state epidemiologist Craig Nichols.

Restaurant food usually is blamed for food poisoning, he said, when the cause actually could date back two or three home-cooked meals.

"We do encourage reporting, but don't think people should jump to conclusions to about the last meal eaten," Nichols said.

And while restaurants usually are cooperative with investigators, tracing the food people eat at home is far more difficult.

Salmonella may be the most common form of food poisoning, and it's usually found in poultry products.

Poultry should be well-cooked, and eggs should never be eaten raw - not even in leftover batter on mixing-bowl beaters relished by children.

"The biggest problem in food-borne illnesses is lack of care in preparation, improper cooking or poor handling of the food," Nichols said.

To prevent food poisoning, Nichols suggests keeping hands and work surfaces clean, keeping the refrigerator at 40 degrees or lower and keeping hot foods hot and cold foods cold.

While large outbreaks are relatively rare, Nichols has plenty of vivid anecdotes about genuine outbreaks.

"Some of them are pretty embarrassing and uncomfortable," he said.

The incident Nichols remembers best happened about ten years ago in Ogden when a catering company served red punch at two events - a Valentine's Day dance and a wedding.

The punch was stored in metal containers that created cadmium poisoning when the acid in the punch reacted with the metal.

Guests at the wedding and the dance became violently ill within minutes of drinking the punch, and the inevitable ensued.

"We called that one the `red snow' investigation," he said.

In Utah County, as many as 400 people got sick last Labor Day from a shigella outbreak at a local Mexican food restaurant. Nearly a dozen were hospitalized and treated with antibiotics.

Dwight Hill of the Utah County Health Department said the investigation pointed to salsa served over the weekend.

"That time the restaurant was immediate. We knew within the day we were told, that was what it was," Hill said. "When you get a half dozen calls from people saying they all ate there, we know there's a problem."

In southern Utah, a large group went on a weekend camping trip two years ago and ate chicken for dinner. When they came down with diarrhea and vomiting, the chicken was the natural suspect.

But the source of the salmonella turned out to be a tank truck that carted water for the group.

Bill Dawson, environmental health director of the Southwest Health District, said the owner of the truck had loaned it to someone who'd filled it with ditch water from a nearby feedlot.

"The man had no idea someone had used it for a non-culinary source," he said.

Northern Utah's Bear River Health District gets two or three calls a month, but not all of them require a full-scale investigation.

Leona Lundstrom, the district's food service inspector, said that by the time most people call it's too late to trace the poisoning.

"People have made up their minds that they got it at a restaurant and usually that's not the case," she said.

And sometimes illnesses are wrongly blamed on bad food. Most people get about six cases of gastroenteritis every year just from passing viruses person to person.

Some forms of food poisoning, like salmonella, are best treated by letting the discomfort run its course.

Botulism, on the other hand, can be deadly if it is not treated immediately, Nichols said.

The Centers for Disease Control estimate that about 6.5 million cases of food-borne diseases occur in the United States ever year and cause about three percent of the deaths from all infectious diseases.