Foodborne illness, commonly referred to as food poisoning, occurs when a pathogen, or a toxin it has produced, is consumed in a food product. Food production is carefully regulated in the United States to prevent foodborne illness. Federal, state, and local agencies cooperate in inspections to help enforce protective laws.
Generally, the microbiological quality of most foods sold in the United States is very good compared with that found in
812 Chapter 32 Food Microbiology some other parts of the world, but consumers must employ sound preserving, preparation, and cooking techniques to avoid hazards from both home-prepared and purchased food products. In spite of strict controls on the quality of the food supply in the United States, millions of cases of food poisoning are estimated to occur each year from foods prepared either commercially, at home, or in institutions such as hospitals and schools. The vast majority of these cases could have been prevented with proper storage, sanitation, and preparation. Table 32.4 lists some bacteria that cause foodborne illness in the United States.
One challenge in preventing foodborne illness is to develop reliable methods to detect pathogens before a contaminated product is marketed and consumed. Not only are culture methods time-consuming, they often lack sensitivity because of the large number of competing organisms generally found on foods. Rapid methods utilizing antibody tests, such as ELISA, and nucleic acid probes are being developed to detect many pathogens. ■ probes, pp. 225, 236 ■ ELISA, p. 434
Foodborne intoxication is an illness that results from the consumption of an exotoxin produced by a microorganism growing in a food product. When such a food product is ingested, it is the toxin that causes illness, not the living organisms (figure 32.7). The symptoms of the illness, which in some cases appear within a few hours of ingestion of the food, may indicate the type of toxin ingested. Staphylococcus aureus and Clostridium botulinum are two examples of organisms that cause foodborne intoxication. ■ exotoxin, p. 472
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