Food-borne infections have drawn substantial attention among medical practitioners and society at large. According to Todd (2020), an estimated 76 million Americans fall sick from various consumables every year. Fundamentally, forborne illnesses are caused by 200 different microbes, which increases the rate of disease occurrence (Camino Feltes et al., 2017). Additionally, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention established that one in every six people living in the US contracts gastroenteritis annually, with more than 3000 fatalities attributed to the consumption of contaminated fruits or produce (Todd, 2020). With the likelihood of the situation getting worse, there is an urgent need for people to understand the dynamics of foodborne illnesses so that they can take the requisite steps to protect themselves and their families.
Causes of Foodborne Illness
The causes of foodborne illness fall under three categories namely biological, chemical, and physical hazards. Biological hazards comprise viruses, bacteria, and parasites, where viruses and bacteria are the major culprits for most foodborne illnesses (Rhode, 2016). These categories of foodborne disease hazards are the biggest threat to the safety of fruits and other consumable produce. The microbes can be ingrained in the product or develop due to various types of mishandling such as time and temperature abuse. Chemical hazards refer to the contribution of chemical contaminants and natural toxins to food poisoning. Naturally-appearing toxins such as PSP in molluscan shellfish and mushrooms are associated with the food itself (Camino Feltes et al., 2017). Other toxins such as histamines are made by pathogens that develop in the food due to non-adherence to time or temperature recommendations. Moreover, certain additives can be hazardous to some people whereas chemical contamination may also occur when products like cleaners are not utilized correctly. Physical hazards are mostly artificial in nature and include metal shavings, plastic pieces, and broken glass.
Microbiology of Foodborne Illness
Bacteria refer to a type of single-celled microbes which often undergo cell division to multiply under favorable environmental conditions. There are various conditions that facilitate bacterial growth which include the food itself, temperature, acidity, time, oxygen, and moisture (Rhode, 2016). However, most bacteria require essential nutrients to thrive, which they usually get from food. Notably, the microbes grow best in neutral or slightly acidic food. The microorganisms have different oxygen, acidity (pH, unit for measuring acidity), and temperature requirements for optimal growth. They also need adequate time to grow, where rapid growths often occur between 41°F and 140°F (Rhode, 2016). Therefore, their growth is constrained at temperatures above 140°F and curtailed at temperatures below 41°F. Whereas some bacteria need oxygen for growth (aerobic), others thrive with little or no oxygen (anaerobic). However, there are other types of bacteria that can survive with or without oxygen (facultative) (Rhode, 2016). The microbes also require both food and water to grow. Therefore, binding or tying up water with salts or sugars deprive the bacteria of this crucial resource.
Like most other microscopic organisms, viruses cannot multiply in food. Consequently, they require a human host to multiply and facilitate their transmission through food from infected people (Todd, 2020). Similarly, parasites such as protozoa and worms cannot multiply in food; they can only do that in a host cell. Once a healthy person eats contaminated food, the transmitted pathogens may cause illness themselves (foodborne infection), release toxins into food that cause illness (foodborne intoxication) or make the body produce disease-causing toxins (foodborne toxin-mediated infection) (Todd, 2020).
Prevention of Foodborne Illness
There are several steps that one can take to prevent themselves and their family from foodborne illness, which include cleanliness, separation and isolation, thorough cooking, and proper refrigeration of food stuffs. Cleanliness is vital to preventing microbial infestation and the resultant food contamination (Rhode, 2016). People should regularly wash their hands, utensils, and food contact surfaces. Effective cleaning practices are vital as well as proper sanitization using high heat to eliminate or reduce the number of microorganisms (Todd, 2020). Another crucial intervention for preventing foodborne illnesses is separating items and food to avoid cross-contamination. Cross-contamination entails the transmission of harmful microbes from dirty surfaces, uncooked food products, unclean people, and kitchen equipment to already prepared foods such as vegetables, fruits, meats, and cooked foods. (Rhode, 2016). People should also be careful during grocery shopping and wash handbags to prevent cross-contamination. Cross-contamination can also be avoided when storing food in the refrigerator by separating raw fruits from produce from cooked ones.
Additionally, it is imperative for food to be adequately cooked to destroy harmful bacteria. For instance, a thermometer can be used to ascertain whether the proper temperature was reached (Rhode, 2016). Notably, the food’s color is not a reliable way to test whether the cooking has been done to the recommended temperature. Also, the time factor cannot stand alone as a metric for ensuring that the food has been properly cooked. could result in a potential food safety hazard (Todd, 2020). Lastly, chilling fruits and other consumables promptly helps to eliminate microorganisms. Cold temperatures have been shown to slow the growth of dangerous microbes. Therefore, proper refrigeration practices should be observed to guarantee food safety. For instance, refrigerator temperatures should remain below 0°F, and foods cooked before refreezing (Rhode, 2016). All in all, the prevention of foodborne illnesses depends on proper hygiene, the separation of suspected contaminated foodstuffs, thorough cooking of food, and the adoption of ideal storage and preservation measures.
Camino Feltes, M. M., Arisseto-Bragotto, A. P., & Block, J. M. (2017). Food quality, food-borne diseases, and food safety in the Brazilian food industry. Food Quality and Safety, 1(1), 13–27. Web.
Rhode. (2016). Causes and prevention of foodborne illness. Food Safety Education Program, The University of Rhode Islands. Web.
Todd E. (2020). Food-borne disease prevention and risk assessment. International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, 17(14), 5129. Web.