The three most common sources of food contamination are agricultural poisons, chemical food additives and disease-causing bacteria. Of these, bacteria are the most common threats to health, endangering millions of Americans every year. In fact, annually, thousands of cases of food poisoning are misdiagnosed as flu.
The recent outbreak of listeria poisoning from melons has once again cast a harsh light on the issue of harmful bacteria in foods. And while listeria is dangerous and potentially deadly, its occurrence in foods is not very common. But the following six disease-causing bacteria are common food contaminants. Here’s what you need to know.
1. Salmonella – Perhaps the most common foodborne microbe, salmonella bacteria occur in the intestinal tracts of humans and animals, and wind up in the food chain due to fecal contamination of meat, eggs, fish, shellfish, milk and poultry. Symptoms of salmonella poisoning include diarrhea, vomiting and fever. These symptoms occur within twelve to thirty-six hours after eating and can last a week. Children, the sick and the elderly are at greatest risk of illness due to exposure to salmonella. The good news? Thorough cooking kills this bug.
2. Campylobacter – Similar to salmonella, campylobacter causes diarrhea and is commonly transmitted in chicken, shellfish, mushrooms and raw milk. As with salmonella, this bacteria is killed by cooking.
3. Staphylococcus – Found in pus-laden infections, pimples, boils and sputum inside the nose, staph grows quickly and produces a toxin that causes nausea, vomiting and diarrhea. This bacteria contaminates food due to unsanitary handling practices, and grows rapidly in warm temperatures. Cooking does not kill the toxins produced by staph. Sanitary storage and food handling practices are the key here.
4. Perringens- Commonly called “the cafeteria germ,” perfringens is found in human and animal intestines, in sewage and in soil. Perfringens typically occurs in food that sits for extended periods in steam tables, or is left out at room temperature. It commonly contaminates stews, casseroles, gravy, dressings, cooked turkey and beef. The best way to prevent contamination from perfringens is to prepare food under sanitary conditions, serve food from small dishes, and avoid letting food sit out at room temperature for extended periods.
5. Botulinum- Watch out! There is NO safe way to deal with this one. Poisoning by botulinum attacks the nerves and can kill you. Botulinum spores come from soil and water, and proliferate in foods that are not properly cooked. Botulinum is most commonly found in improperly canned or bottles foods, including canned meats and vegetables. If you see milky-looking liquids in canned or bottled foods, throw the food out. Do not taste-test those foods, as you may die. You cannot cook out botulinum. Be warned, this is a lethal poison.
6. Yersinia – A nasty bacteria occurring in the lymph and feces of humans and animals, yersinia survives refrigeration quite well. Yersinia can occur in raw vegetables, milk products and tofu. Poisoning by yersina causes inflammation of lymph nodes connected to the intestines, and symptoms resembling appendicitis.
What you can do:
* Read the “sell-by” dates on all packaged foods, and do not buy items at or beyond those dates. If you buy refrigerated foods, buy those that are truly cold, not just a little cool. Avoid foods that look off-color or have a funny odor. When you shop, bring your food directly home, instead of running other errands. Get all refrigerated goods promptly into your refrigerator.
* Before preparing foods, wash your hands thoroughly. Do not cough or sneeze into foods. When you have finished preparing meat, poultry or fish, wash ALL cutting boards, knives, plates and other utensils.
* Do not prepare vegetables or other foods with utensils used to prepare meat or fish until those utensils have been thoroughly cleaned with soap and water. Clean all utensils thoroughly, every time, after food preparation.
* Cook meats, poultry, fish and shellfish thoroughly at temperatures between 165 and 212 degrees farenheit. If you delay serving food after cooking, keep it at a minimum of 140 degrees until it is served.
* When you reheat food, cook it until it is hot.
* Refrigerate food properly, and make sure that your refrigerator is colder than 40 degrees. Keep freezers below zero degrees.
By following these simple tips, you can avoid most contamination of foods by disease-causing bacteria. Stay alert, follow proper procedures, and enjoy your food.
Chris Kilham is a medicine hunter who researches natural remedies all over the world, from the Amazon to Siberia. He teaches ethnobotany at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, where he is Explorer In Residence. Chris advises herbal, cosmetic and pharmaceutical companies and is a regular guest on radio and TV programs worldwide. His field research is largely sponsored by Naturex of Avignon, France. Read more at www.MedicineHunter.com