“More than 200 known diseases are transmitted through food (1). The causes of foodborne illness include viruses, bacteria, parasites, toxins, metals, and prions, and the symptoms of foodborne illness range from mild gastroenteritis to life-threatening neurologic, hepatic, and renal syndromes.”
Fatal food poisoning generally occurs to those with weak immune systems — typically the elderly and small children.
Why is our population exposed to contaminated food? Should not cooking be enough to ensure safe consumption? While cooking does kill bacteria, viruses, and parasites, under cooked food or pathogen introduction after cooking are common reasons for contaminated food. Some foods such as leafy vegetables are eaten raw. The food industry is complex and provides many avenues for harmful microbes to get into the food supply. Common points of entry of food pathogens are described below:
Meat and Poultry Processing
Microbes such as Campylobacter and E. Coli are found in the intestines of animals. They can get into the edible parts of an animal during the slaughtering process and can also cross contaminate food processing areas. Ground beef is especially susceptible to this type of contamination and must never be under cooked.
Fruits and vegetables are sometimes irrigated with water contaminated with Campylobacter, E. Coli, Giardia Lamblia, Hepatitis A, Listeria, or Noroviruses. These pathogens are then spread when fruits and vegetables are not properly washed and eaten raw. Sometimes the water used for washing is contaminated.
Improperly Canned Foods
Clostridium Botulinum infects food that has been improperly canned. This frequently happens with home canned foods but also occurs with commercially canned foods.
Unrefrigerated or Improperly Stored Foods
Food microbes can multiply when refrigeration temperatures are too high or when food is left at warm temperatures for too long. Gravies are often contaminated because they remain at warm temperatures for long periods of time.
Many dishes served at restaurants require some handling by the cook. Glasses, plates, and utensils are also handled. Pathogens spread by handling include Giardia Lamblia, Hepatitis A, Noroviruses, Rotavirus, Salmonella, and Shigella.
Raw Seafood Consumption
Various shellfish such as oysters, mussels, clams, scallops, and other seafood are often eaten raw. This can lead to infection by Hepatitis A, Noroviruses, Shigella, and Vibrio Vulnificus.