Food-Borne Bacteria

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Though some bacteria are used beneficially in making cheese and yogurt, there are disease-causing bacteria called “pathogens which enter the food supply and can cause food-borne illness. Bacteria may be present on products such as raw meat, poultry, seafood, and eggs when you purchase them. Even produce such as lettuce, tomatoes, sprouts, and melons are not sterile and can catty bacteria.


Why should I be aware of this

Bacteria may be present when you purchase products such raw meat, poultry, seafood, and eggs and produce such as lettuce, tomatoes, sprouts, and melons which are not sterile. Foods, including safely cooked, ready-to-eat foods, can become cross-contaminated with bacteria introduced on raw products, meat juices, or other contaminated products, or by poor personal hygiene. It is important to be aware and take appropriate safety and precautionary measures.

Food-borne bacteria and health

Thousands of types of bacteria are naturally present in our environment. Not all bacteria cause disease in humans. For example, some bacteria are used beneficially in making cheese and yogurt.

Millions of cases of food-borne illnesses are caused each year only by a few types of such bacteria They can grow in just about any food, but are particularly found in protein foods, such as meat, poultry, seafood, eggs, and dairy products in particular, as well as high-protein vegetables such as beans and grains. It is difficult to recognize the symptoms of these illnesses as they often show themselves as flu-like symptoms such as nausea, vomiting, diarrhea.

All about food-borne bacteria

Harmful bacteria present in raw foods, such as raw meat and poultry that may have become contaminated during slaughter, are the most common source of food-borne illnesses because they are not sterile. Seafood may become contaminated during harvest or through processing. A small percentage of eggs get contaminated with Salmonella inside the egg shell. Produce such as spinach, lettuce, tomatoes, sprouts, and melons can become contaminated with Salmonella, Shigella, or Escherichia coli (E. coli) O157:H7.

It is also common for contamination to occur during food preparation in a restaurant or a home kitchen. The most common form of contamination from handled foods is the calcivirus, also called the Norwalk-like virus. Bacteria forms more quickly when food is cooked and left out for more than 2 hours at room temperature. As most bacteria don’t produce a bad odor or change the color or texture of the food, we fail to detect them. Freezing food slows or stops bacteria’s growth but does not destroy the bacteria. The microbes can become reactivated when the food is thawed. Refrigeration also can slow the growth of some bacteria. Thorough cooking is needed to destroy the bacteria.

What can I do about it?

  • Ironically, most cases of food-borne illness can be prevented. Proper cooking or processing of food destroys bacteria. Following food safety techniques is the best way to prevent food-borne illness.

The following tips can help keep your kitchen and meals safe.

  • Keep fresh meat as far as possible close to the bottom of the refrigerator as possible as they can easily leak juices. If these meats are placed on a high shelf, the juices can run down onto other foods.
  • Wash all fresh fruits and vegetables thoroughly before eating. Even if you plan to peel the food, you should still at least give it a good rinse. Illnesses such as Hepatitis B could be lurking on the skin of several fruits. Meats, however, do not need washing, as washing chicken can cause thousands of germs to be spread throughout your kitchen.
  • Thaw food always in the refrigerator or microwave and never on the counter. Thawing on the counter makes the outside edges of the food thaw very quickly while the inside remains frozen. The outer edges are, therefore, left at an unsafe temperature for too long before cooking and may form bacteria.

Keep separate cutting boards for meat and vegetables and fruits. Go for a plastic board for meat and replace it often.

  • Heat meat at a particular temperature considered safe. Each type of meat or poultry has a different recommended internal temperature. Use a meat thermometer to insure that the correct temperature has been reached.
  • If leftovers are not refrigerated within 2 hours after preparation bacteria is likely to form. Don't leave foods out for more than 2 hours.

Follow the symptoms

If you or your child have the following symptoms consult a doctor:

  • High fever—temperature over 101.5°, measured orally
  • Blood in the stools
  • Diarrhea lasting more than 3 days
  • Prolonged vomiting
  • Signs of severe dehydration, such as dry mouth, sticky saliva, decreased urination, dizziness, fatigue, sunken eyes, low blood pressure, or increased heart rate and breathing rate
  • Signs of shock, such as weak or rapid pulse or shallow breathing

Confusion or difficulty reasoning


  • Bacteria and Foodborne Illness
  • Bacteria That Cause Food-borne Illness
  • Food Safety Tips to Prevent Food Borne Illness