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Microbiology & Nutrition: The Importance of Food Safety

The bacteria that cause Foodborne Illnesses.

Adapted from a very short paper on how microbiology influences my chosen degree. .

The CDC’s webpage on Food Safety states, “While the food supply in the United States is one of the safest in the world, each year about 76 million illnesses occur, more than 300,000 persons are hospitalized, and 5,000 die from foodborne illness (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 2010)”.

There are a variety of bacteria that can affect food safety and cause people to become very sick:

  • Campylobacter jejuni, Escherichia coli, Listeria monocytogenes, and Salmonella can survive in raw or undercooked meat and poultry. Symptoms of consuming these bacteria can include abdominal pain, diarrhea, nausea, and vomiting.
  • Listeria monocytogenes, Salmonella, Shigella, Staphylococcus aureus, and Campylobacter jejuni can be found in raw, unpasteurized milk and dairy products and may cause nausea, vomiting, abdominal cramps, diarrhea, and fever.
  • Salmonella enteriditis can be found in raw or undercooked eggs and can cause the same symptoms as the above mentioned bacteria.

    Image provided from http://www.capemaycountygov.net/cit-e-access/webpage.cfm?TID=5&TPID=10094&Print=1

  • Vibrio vulnificus and V. parhaemolyticus can be found in raw or undercooked shellfish and can cause chills, fever and may cause people to collapse.
  • Clostridium botulinum may be found in improperly canned goods and smoked or salted fish. This is a reason why many are told to be cautious with dented canned goods purchased at the store. Symptoms of consuming this bacteria include double vision, inability to swallow, difficulty speaking, and inability to breathe, dyspnea,- a very dangerous symptom that requires immediate medical assistance!
  • E. coli, L. monocytogenes, Salmonella, Shigella, Yersinia entercolitica, viruses and parasites can be found on fresh produce or produce which has been minimally processed. Symptoms include diarrhea, nausea and vomiting.

There are many other types of bacteria which can cause serious foodborne illnesses and symptoms other than those I have listed.

As a nutrition professional, it is important to counsel clients/patients, food-industries and their related agencies, health-related agencies, and the general public on the dangers of foodborne illnesses caused by bacteria, viruses, and parasites. It’s also important to advise them on how to prevent such illnesses. It’s important to remind others to

  • Wash their hands
  • Sanitize food preparation surfaces
  • Keep meats and poultry separate from produce
  • Scrubbing the outside of produce with dish soap or another appropriate cleaning agent will help protect against the consumption of bacteria and even pesticides – just make sure you rinse thoroughly so you do not consume soap residue.
  • Properly throw out cracked eggs
  • Avoid purchasing and using dented cans from the grocery store.
  • If someone in the household is sick, they should avoid cooking so they do not infect others.
  • Properly cook food, especially meat and poultry, so that it is heated both on the outside and entirely on the inside to destroy dangerous bacteria before consumption.
  • Once food is prepared, it should only be kept at appropriate temperatures or placed inside the refrigerator for a certain length of time to prevent foodborne illnesses.
  • Boil drinking water for at least 1 minute when needed, as in cases of sewer damage
  • Water filters are available at inexpensive prices at stores for added protection by consumer preference.

Lastly, when counseling clients on nutrition, I would provide them with food safety guidelines sheets, symptoms of foodborne illnesses that indicate when they should seek medical care and if they should report information to a health agency, as well as provide them with information on food safety contamination risks when travelling like the one below:

The USDA has now created a Fact Sheet on Food Safety Guidelines which can be found here: Food Safety and Security: What Consumers Need to Know – details on the guidelines above, such as proper heating and holding temperatures can be located within this Fact Sheet as well.

My questions to you are:

  1. What food safety measures do you take to prevent foodborne illness?
  2. What tips can you offer that aren’t provided here?
  3. Have you ever contracted a foodborne illness? If so, how did you know and what treatment did you seek?

Works Cited

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2010, September 23). Food Safety. Retrieved November 14, 2010, from Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: http://www.cdc.gov/foodsafety/

Escott-Stump, S. (2008). Foodborne Illness. In S. Escott-Stump, Nutrition & Diagnosis-related Care (pp. 126-131). Baltimore, MD: Lippincott Williams & Wilkins, a Wolters Kluwer business.

USDA. (2008, November 20). Food Safety and Security: What Consumers. Retrieved November 14, 2010, from USDA Food Safety and Inspection Service: http://www.fsis.usda.gov/Fact_Sheets/Food_Safety_Security_Consumers/index.asp

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