At least one million people in the United States
suffer from food-borne illnesses each year.
The hazards of food-borne illness can be avoided by practicing
sanitary food handling and effective food preparation techniques.
Two Main Categories of Food-borne
|Illness caused by eating food containing
harmful microorganisms. The microorganisms themselves
cause the symptoms or effects. Example: Salmonellosis,
an infection of the germ Salmonella resulting in severe
diarrhea, fever, and cramps.
|Illness caused by poisons or toxins in
the food a person eats. The toxin can occur naturally
in certain foods, such as mushrooms, or be deposited in
foods by certain microorganisms. Example: Staphylococcus
aureus, a bacteria that produces a toxin which causes
vomiting, diarrhea, and cramps.
Four types of microorganisms that affect foods are bacteria,
viruses, yeasts, and molds:
- Bacteria: Small, single-cell
organisms that can live anywhere people do. Bacteria thrive
in a warm, moist environment that is neutral or slightly
acidic. Bacteria are more commonly involved in cases of
food-borne illness than viruses, yeasts, and molds. Common
names for bacterial causes of food-borne illness include:
C. jejuni, C. botulinum, C. perfringens, E. coli 0157:H7,
Listeria monocytogenes, and Salmonella. (For more information,
a very helpful chart is available at: http://www.fsis.usda.gov/OA/pubs/FoodIllness.pdf.)
- Viruses: The smallest and
perhaps simplest forms of life known. Viruses cause illness
such as colds, influenza, and infectious hepatitis. Viruses
do not increase in number while they are in the food. The
food merely transports the viruses, which may lodge themselves
in the human host and produce abundantly. Examples include:
Norovirus (Caliciviridae family viruses), rotaviruses
- Yeasts: Yeasts are types
of fungi that require sugar, proper temperature, and moisture
for growth. Yeasts often consume these ingredients in food
products and spoil the food in the process. Yeast spoilage
can create a slime on fruit juices or pickle brine (juice
pickles are preserved in), or a pink discoloration in cottage
cheese. Examples include: Torulopsis, Saccharomyces bisporus
- Molds: Molds are fungi
that can grow on almost any food at almost any storage temperature,
under almost any conditions – moist or dry, acidic
or non-acidic, salty, or sweet. The color of mold is usually
white but can be blue-green, orange, black, gray, or even
red. Examples include: Aspergillus, Neurospora, Oosproa,
Additionally, parasites and other toxic substances can be
transported by food. Always practice safe food handling techniques.
To prevent food-borne illness, it is critically important
to practice safe habits in shopping, storing, thawing, preparing,
cooking, serving, and freezing foods. The U.S. Department
of Agriculture provides informational materials about food-borne
illness, outbreaks, food recalls, and food safety.
wash your hands thoroughly (soap and warm water for at
least 20 seconds) before preparing or consuming food.
Sanitize any utensils and workspace used when preparing
food. Cutting boards can be soaked in a dilute bleach
|Keep foods at their proper
temperature. Hot foods must be kept hot (above 140ºF),
cold foods must be kept cold (below 40ºF), and frozen
foods must be kept frozen solid (below 0ºF).
not to cross-contaminate surfaces through behaviors such
as using the same plate to carry raw and cooked food between
the grill and kitchen.
|Always cook and reheat
foods thoroughly (to at least 165ºF). Check a food guide
for the proper cooking temperature and use a thermometer
to test doneness. Never consume raw meats or eggs, or
unpasteurized dairy products.
For more information, please see the U.S. Department of Agriculture,
the Food and Drug Administration, or the following websites: