Foodborne toxicosis is a problem that affects the entire food production chain, putting the health of consumers at risk. However, today there are technological solutions that can inhibit the ability of microorganisms to grow, eliminate biological contamination of food, prevent diseases caused by bacteria and extend the shelf life of food. In this article we explain what foodborne illnesses are, the most common pathogens and how to avoid them in your products.
What are foodborne toxicosis?
They are diseases caused by pathogenic microorganisms in food that are harmful to human health. Food poisoning occurs when bacteria contaminate food. In fact, more than 90% of food poisoning cases are caused by Staphylococcus aureus, Salmonella, Clostridium perfringens, Campylobacter, Listeria monocytogenes, Vibrio parahaemolyticus, Bacillus cereus and Escherichia coli. Bacteria thrive in moist foods and foods with high levels of starch or protein, such as meat, seafood, cereals and dairy products. Similarly, temperatures between 5 °C and 60 °C allow for maximum bacterial growth. In addition, bacteria present in raw foods can multiply during processing, manufacturing and storage unless proper food disinfection procedures are carried out.
Most people have mild, non-life-threatening symptoms such as gastroenteritis, fever or stomach pain. However, on certain occasions the effects are extremely serious, even leading to death. Children, pregnant women, the elderly and the immunocompromised are at extreme risk due to a weaker immune system.
Since bacteria are often present in many foods, knowledge of their characteristics is essential to implement an effective food processing and quality control system.
Most common types of food pathogens and illnesses caused by bacteria
If a food has been mishandled along the production chain it causes contamination and any other improper handling, such as undercooking or leaving it on the counter at an unsafe temperature, will increase the risk of foodborne illness. Here are some of the most common microorganisms and bacteria that can cause foodborne illness:
Found in dust, soil, spices and starchy foods such as rice, pasta and potatoes. It can survive normal cooking and reproduce if the storage temperature is incorrect. Illness from this bacillus usually results in nausea, malaise and diarrhea.
It is present in meat, especially raw poultry. Campylobacter is sensitive to heat, for this reason it is advisable to cook chicken properly, otherwise it could survive and multiply in the person’s intestine causing the disease, whose most common symptoms are fever, stomach cramps and diarrhea.
It is found in soil, dust and the gastrointestinal tract of animals and humans. When food containing large numbers of C. perfringens is consumed, the bacterium produces a toxin in the intestinal tract that causes nausea, abdominal pain and diarrhea.
It can be found in all soft cheeses, pâté, packaged salads, and cooked and refrigerated products. Since listeria grows slowly at refrigerated temperatures, efficient handling and processing of products is critical, as listeriosis can cause fever, headache, and in some cases septicemia, meningitis and even death.
E. coli is present in the intestine of all humans and animals, contaminated water, raw milk, improperly cooked meat and cross-contaminated food. In fact, the presence of feces in untreated water is one of the most likely sources of food contamination. E. coli usually causes inflammation, diarrhea and fever.
Protein-rich foods, such as meat, poultry, fish and eggs, are most associated with Salmonella. However, any food that is kept at improper temperatures, or contaminated by contact with surfaces or utensils that were not properly washed after use with raw products, can cause salmonellosis. Its most common associated symptoms are diarrhea, nausea and headache.
Staphylococcus aureus food poisoning occurs most frequently in foods that require manual preparation, such as salad, as it is found on the skin of animals and humans.
Present in shellfish, it requires the saline environment of seawater to grow. V. parahaemolyticus is very sensitive to cold and heat, so it can be controlled with proper cooking and refrigeration.
Food poisoning prevention in industry and processing
Contaminated food can endanger the health of consumers and product recalls can be devastating for food industries. Therefore, companies must take a proactive approach to food contamination by incorporating procedures and controls into their production processes to minimize the risk of contamination. It is essential that food is processed with the safest, cleanest, most sanitized and reliable equipment to avoid potential risks, as each link in the supply chain creates new opportunities for contamination.
In this regard, technological advances have facilitated the characterization of pathogens involved in outbreaks to find the source of contamination or detection of critical points of microorganisms and other residues to avoid and prevent biological contamination of food. Experts in food engineering, material innovation and additive development with specialized laboratories are the best solution to ensure food processing with the latest techniques. For example, using ultrasound to improve food safety. Food engineering is able to improve food quality and some of its functions to achieve this are:
- Performing food quality controls to ensure food safety and regulatory compliance.
- The development of products, additives and shelf life.
- The detection of pathogen contamination and microbial studies for identification, elimination and prevention.
- Sensory testing to improve food properties such as taste, appearance, texture, flavor, aroma, etc.
In short, our health can be affected by pathogenic microorganisms, the consumption of which can cause food poisoning. For this reason, the most effective way to control the risks of biological contamination of food is prevention throughout the production process. It is undoubtedly much safer to invest in the prevention of food outbreaks than the subsequent cost that may be incurred. In Infinitia laboratories we have the best food engineering equipment backed by extensive experience in control, detection and prevention of food contamination. Need help? Contact our experts in materials innovation.