Foodborne Diseases are very dangerous to human health, some of them can cause permanent damage and even death. For this reason, it’s very important to know them and practice all possible prevention procedures. In this article, food science explains what are the main food-borne illnesses are and how we can prevent infection.
It’s important to know the particularities of different diseases and pathogenic microorganisms to which we are exposed in order to take the necessary preventive measures. Good practices imply knowing at what temperature we should cook to eliminate the risks, what is the validity of each type of food, in what way we should defrost them and keep them in conditions for consumption. As pathogenic microorganisms often do not alter the colour, odour and characteristics of food, we need to always follow procedures to ensure that they are not present in our food.
Foodborne Illnesses are infectious or toxic diseases caused by the consumption of contaminated food or water. The most common symptoms are diarrhoea, vomiting, fever, and abdominal cramps. In healthy people, diseases are generally self-limited, that is, they heal spontaneously in a few days. Children, the elderly, pregnant women, and people with depressed immune systems are the most vulnerable to severe consequences, sequelae, or even death.
ESCHERICHIA COLI -SHIGA TOXIN PRODUCER–
This bacteria is found in the intestines of healthy animals and can contaminate meat in the slaughter process. It can also be present in the soil, milk (or its derived products) and water that comes into contact with animal faeces.
Incubation: 3 to 9 days.
Symptoms: Bloody diarrhea, vomiting, fever and colic.
Consequences: 10% of cases can cause serious damage such as Hemolytic Uremic Syndrome in children and bleeding disorder in adults.
Prevention: Wash and disinfect vegetables / Avoid cross-contamination / Pasteurize milk / Consume purified water, for this you can boil it or add 2 drops of bleach per litre of water / Cook properly the meats at a temperature above 70 degrees. Normally in meats, the bacteria are on the outside, however, in minced meat, it can be anywhere, which is why it’s particularly important to cook minced meats very well.
Salmonella is found in the intestines of animals, eggs, fish, dairy products and derivatives. It’s a facultative anaerobic bacterium, resistant to freezing and dehydration. However, it does not survive in acidic environments or heat. The shells and often also the interior of the eggs have this bacterium. For this reason, the eggs must be cooked well to eliminate completely the risk of intoxication. It’s recommended to wash the eggs only before use. If they are kept washed, the eggs will deteriorate more quickly because the water removes the protective wax film they have.
Incubation: 12 to 72 hours.
Symptoms: Abdominal cramps, diarrhea and fever.
Consequences: The disease can lead to arthritis, which can occur 3 to 4 weeks after symptoms.
Prevention: Avoid cross-contamination / Pasteurize milk / Cook meat properly at a temperature above 70 degrees / Pasteurize whites and yolks before consumption (57.2 degrees kill the bacteria and the whites coagulate at 60 degrees so the margin is very small for pastry preparations) / Once you have the infection you should wait to have 2 negative cultures before handling food to avoid transmitting the disease to other people.
This bacterium is found in the soil, in the faeces of animals and in humans. Normally it forms spores, which germinate when the food is at room temperature. Many times this bacteria is present in potatoes, pasta, sweet potatoes; rice, cheese, sauces, bread, pastries, soups and salads.
Symptoms: There are two types, diarrhea (watery diarrhoea and abdominal cramps) and emetic (nausea and vomiting).
Incubation: 4 to 16 hours.
Consequences: It can even cause death.
Prevention: Avoid cross-contamination / Pasteurize milk / Cook meat properly at a temperature above 70 degrees / Do not leave food out of the refrigerator more than two hours before consumption / Refrigerate food as soon as possible after cooking.
LYSTEROSIS -LISTERIA MONOCYTOGENES-
It’s a facultative anaerobic bacterium, very resistant and one of the most lethal. It’s found in unpasteurized milk and its derivatives, raw vegetables, raw fermented sausages, and raw meats. It multiplies even in refrigeration (from -0.4 to 45 degrees) and can survive in the human intestine without symptoms. There are people who can be asymptomatic carriers. It survives in a PH range of 4 to 9. In the elderly, infants, young children and immunosuppressed people, mortality is 20% to 30%.
Symptoms: It begins with flu-like symptoms, with fever and progresses to a gastrointestinal profile.
Incubation: More than 70 days, for this reason it’s difficult to locate the infected food.
Consequences: Septicemia, meningitis, meningoencephalitis, encephalitis and intrauterine or cervical infection in pregnant women.
Prevention: Avoid cross-contamination / Pasteurize milk / Adequately cook meats at a temperature above 70 degrees / Wash well and disinfect vegetables and fruits / Do not consume sausages from establishments without registering.
BOTULISM -CLOSTRIDIUM BOTULINUM-
It’s an anaerobic bacterium, which forms spores and a neurotoxin. Typically found in soil and risky foods such as pickles, canned goods, canned vegetables and meats, cans of tomatoes, beaten cans. It may happen that only part of the food is contaminated. The bacterium does not grow at temperatures below 4 degrees and is only killed by exposure to temperatures above 80 degrees for a period of 30 minutes. There are two types of botulism: wound or food-borne. Children under one year of age are often given honey (honey has spores and can trigger botulism).
Symptoms: Extreme fatigue, weakness, vertigo, double vision, difficulty swallowing and speaking, flaccid paralysis.
Incubation: 12 to 36 hours (but in some cases it can be up to 8 days).
Consequences: It can cause death due to respiratory failure and obstruction of the trachea.
Prevention: Avoid cross-contamination / Properly cook meats at a temperature above 80 degrees for more than 30 minutes / Do not leave food out of the refrigerator / Do not consume homemade canned goods or pickles of unregistered establishments / Do not consume cans that are beaten, swollen, rusted or have signs of leakage / Do not consume expired canned goods.
In addition to these illnesses, which are the most common, there are other bacteria that cause foodborne diseases such as Leptospira (causing Leptospirosis), Brucella Melitensis (causing Brucellosis), Vibrio Cholerae (causing Cholera), Staphylococcus aereus, etc. There are also viruses that are transmitted by food such as Rotavirus, Adenovirus, Hantavirus, Astrovirus, Hepatitis A and E, etc. In turn, through food we can get parasites such as Pinworms, Triquinella Spirallis (which causes Trichinosis), Taenia Solium, Taenia Saginatis, Toxoplasma Gondii, Giardia Lomblia, etc. Finally, we can contract diseases derived from fungi and moulds present in food.
Not all microorganisms are harmful, there are some that are necessary for the production of gastronomic products. Lactobacillus and Steptococcus bacteria are used to make yogurt. Yeast, which is used to make bread and pizzas, is a single-celled fungus that causes alcoholic fermentation of carbohydrates. There are specific yeasts for beer such as Saccharomyces cerevisiae or Saccaromyces for wines. The Leuconostocoenos bacterium is used for the fermentation of red and some white wines. There is a fungus called Penicillium Roqueforti, which is characteristic in the caves of France where this cheese comes from, with a designation of origin. Kombucha also has Acetobacter bacteria that are beneficial to improve our microbiota and our natural defences.
As a conclusion to avoid contracting foodborne diseases, we must follow good hygiene, handling, preservation and cooking practices.
SEE ASSOCIATED NOTE How to prevent food contamination?