3 of the Worst Food Borne Pathogens, Part 1

comments (0) June 21st, 2016

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While dozens, if not hundreds, of different kinds of bacteria exist in the world of food, cooking, and food processing, there are several that are particularly dangerous. In the first of this two-part series, the 3 pathogens that will be explained are Salmonella, Campylobacter, and Listeria.

It is a well-known fact that many of the most deadly bacteria cannot be seen, and this fact alone makes it very difficult for cooks and food processors to make absolutely sure that no food is contaminated. Sometimes, it is the ingredient, or the prepared food itself that is contaminated, and at other times, a tool or a surface area that the food has come into contact with, spreads unwanted bacteria to the food.

Here is a brief explanation of 3 very common food borne pathogens: 

1. Salmonella. The Salmonella bacterium, part of the Enterobacteriaceae family, can cause a food borne illness known as Salmonellosis. The source of the pathogen is most typically raw/uncooked eggs, raw milk, or undercooked chicken. However, Salmonella can be found on fresh foods and vegetables, and can also be spread by the handling of pets and reptiles. In people who are older, younger, or who have a suppressed immune system, contracting Salmonellosis can require hospitalisation and treatment. Common symptoms are abdominal cramping, fever, diarrhoea, and possibly dehydration. To avoid a Salmonella infection, chicken should always be cooked to 74°C or above at its thickest part, fruits and vegetable should be always be thoroughly washed, and anyone who is handling food must make regular practice of thorough hand washing with soap and warm water. 

2. Campylobacter. The Campylobacter bacteria, one of the most common causes of food poisoning, can lead to Campylobacteriosis. This particular bacterium is spread through contact with animal faeces, and is typically found on chicken. If raw chicken is left out at room temperature, the Campylobacter pathogen can multiply quickly, so it is important to keep raw chicken wrapped and chilled, at or below 8°C, until ready to cook. The only way to kill the bacteria, is to cook chicken to a minimum of 74°C, make sure that other susceptible food products like milk and eggs are pasteurised, and for all food handlers to practice excellent hygiene. It may take several days after infection, for symptoms of abdominal cramping, fever, and diarrhoea to appear, and the illness itself could take up to ten days to clear from your system. If symptoms are severe, go to the hospital.

3. Listeria. Listeria infection, also known as Listeriosis, is often caused by exposure to contaminated soil, water, and animal faeces. When a person consumes raw vegetables that have been grown using water or soil that is fertilized with contaminated manure, that person can become very ill. In addition, animal meats, raw milk (including foods that are made with raw milk), and processed foods such as soft cheeses, frankfurters, and deli meats, can all be contaminated either due to direct exposure to the Listeria pathogen, or from the failure of food handlers/cooks to practice superior hygiene. Unlike Salmonella and Campylobacter, it can take much longer (up to two months), after exposure, for the symptoms of Listeriosis to show. Typical symptoms are fever, muscle aches, nausea, and diarrhoea, however in more virulent cases, damage to the nervous system can occur which present as headaches, confusion, loss of balance, and a stiff neck. If food poisoning is suspected, it's best to see a doctor right away.

Without a doubt, food borne illness is a serious issue and almost anyone can be exposed to any one of the common pathogens, at any time. To avoid illness, make sure to practice good hygiene in your kitchen, and to only frequent restaurants that you know have good reputations and high ratings from the Food Standards Agency.  


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