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Bacterial food poisoning

Foodborne illness or food poisoning is caused by consuming food contaminated with pathogenic bacteria, toxins, viruses, prions or parasites. Such contamination usually arises from improper handling, preparation or storage of food. Foodborne illness can also be caused by adding pesticides or medicines to food, or by accidentally consuming naturally poisonous substances like poisonous mushrooms or reef fish. Contact between food and pests, especially flies, rodents and cockroaches, is a further cause of contamination of food. more...

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Bacterial food poisoning
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Bardet-Biedl syndrome
Bardet-Biedl syndrome
Bardet-Biedl syndrome
Bardet-Biedl syndrome
Barrett syndrome
Barth syndrome
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Batten disease
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Becker's nevus
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Behr syndrome
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Bloom syndrome
Blue diaper syndrome
Blue rubber bleb nevus
Body dysmorphic disorder
Bourneville's disease
Bowen's disease
Brachydactyly type a1
Bright's disease
Brittle bone disease
Bronchiolotis obliterans...
Bronchopulmonary dysplasia
Brown-Sequard syndrome
Brugada syndrome
Bubonic plague
Budd-Chiari syndrome
Buerger's disease
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Burkitt's lymphoma
Cavernous angioma

Some common diseases are occasionally foodborne mainly through the water vector, even though they are usually transmitted by other routes. These include infections caused by Shigella, Hepatitis A, and the parasites Giardia lamblia and Cryptosporidium parvum.

The World Health Organization defines it as diseases, usually either infectious or toxic in nature, caused by agents that enter the body through the ingestion of food. Every person is at risk of foodborne illness.

Good hygiene practices before, during, and after food preparation can reduce the chances of contracting an illness.

Symptoms and mortality

Symptoms typically begin several hours after ingestion and depending on the agent involved, can include one or more of the following: nausea, abdominal pain, vomiting, diarrhea, fever, headache or tiredness. In most cases the body is able to permanently recover after a short period of acute discomfort and illness. However, foodborne illness can result in permanent health problems or even death, especially in babies, pregnant women (and their fetuses), elderly people, sick people and others with weak immune systems. Similarly, people with liver disease are especially susceptible to infections from Vibrio vulnificus, which can be found in oysters.

Incubation period

The delay between consumption of a contaminated food and appearance of the first symptoms of illness is called the incubation period. This ranges from hours to days (and rarely months or even years), depending on the agent, and on how much was consumed. If symptoms occur within 1-6 hours after eating the food, it suggests that it is caused by a bacterial toxin rather than live bacteria.

During the incubation period, microbes pass through the stomach into the intestine, attach to the cells lining the intestinal walls, and begin to multiply there. Some types of microbes stay in the intestine, some produce a toxin that is absorbed into the bloodstream, and some can directly invade the deeper body tissues. The symptoms produced depend on the type of microbe.

Infectious dose

The infectious dose is the amount of agent that must be consumed to give rise to symptoms of foodborne illness. The infective dose varies according to the agent and consumer's age and health. In the case of Salmonella, as few as 15-20 cells may suffice .

Pathogenic agents

An early theory on the causes of food poisoning involved ptomaines, alkaloids found in decaying animal and vegetable matter. While some poisonous alkaloids are the cause of poisoning, the discovery of bacteria left the ptomaine theory obsolete.


Bacterial infection is the most common cause of food poisoning. In the United Kingdom during 2000 the individual bacteria involved were as follows: Campylobacter jejuni 77.3%, Salmonella 20.9%, Escherichia coli O157:H7 1.4%, and all others less than 0.1% .


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Attack of the Killer Sprouts? - food poisoning is not only a danger of animal products, fruits and vegetables, especially sprouts, can also be contaminated
From Vegetarian Times, 9/1/99 by Linda Bonvie

Food poisoning is usually associated with meat, but produce can be just as dangerous.

What might a fresh head of lettuce have in common with an adulterated hamburger? Frighteningly, a lot more than you'd think. We usually associate food-borne illnesses with tainted meat, fish or dairy products, but the culprit can just as easily be the healthful fruits and vegetables at the core of your diet. Consider this: Unpasteurized orange juice contaminated with salmonella recently sickened 17 people in Washington and Oregon. And last February, 73 people in Nebraska became seriously ill after eating E. coil-tainted lettuce.

These are not isolated cases. According to Paul Mead, M.D., a medical epidemiologist at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the incidences of illnesses from contaminated produce have been rising over the past decade. "As people eat more fruits and vegetables, they are becoming increasingly exposed to pathogens that may be in them," he explains. In fact, Mead says, the several thousand reported cases of food-borne illnesses--including salmonella, shigella, listeria, cyclospora and E. coli 0157:H7--are just "the tip of the iceberg." High as these numbers are, he estimates that they only represent 10 to 20 percent of actual cases. "Food-borne illnesses are a big problem. And fruits and vegetables constitute a real challenge for consumers. You can cook meat to a certain temperature [to kill the bacteria], but you don't grill or boil lettuce."

Eating contaminated produce can, at the very least, cause intestinal discomfort; in a worst-case scenario, it could kill you. Symptoms of infection tend to be similar-fever, vomiting, diarrhea, muscle pain--although the severity differs with each pathogen. Salmonella, for example, can lead to chronic problems, such as arthritis-like pain, while listeria has a fatality rate of 30 percent. And E. coli 0157:H7, which has been showing up in such unlikely products as unpasteurized apple juice, causes fatalities in 2 percent of those infected.

In the past two years, food poisoning cases have been linked to domestically grown lettuce, tomatoes, parsley and cilantro. But perhaps no product has a greater association with food poisoning than sprouts (most notably alfalfa), which caused at least nine outbreaks over the past two years in California alone. "If you could design a system to grow bacteria, it might look a lot like that of sprouts," says Caroline Smith DeWaal, food-safety director of the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI), a Washington, D.C., consumer advocacy group, referring to sprouts' damp, dark growing conditions. "For most produce-related outbreaks, we think the source of contamination may be in the farmer's field: in the manure used on crops [or spread by wind] or in contaminated irrigation water," she explains. On the consumer end, tainted meat can contaminate hands and surfaces used to prepare uncooked produce.

The situation is made even more daunting, by the fact that inspection standards for fruits and vegetables are considerably less strict than for beef and poultry. The problem is due in part to a lack of funding for the inspection systems of the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), the agency responsible for produce safety, and partly to good ol' governmental apathy. CSPI recently released a food safety advisory that stated, "The FDA's foods [including fruits and vegetables] are generally, but erroneously, thought to pose a lower risk than the meat and poultry products regulated by USDA, and Congress appropriates accordingly. FDA's budget for regulating foods is approximately one-third of USDA's, so they regulate more food with less money." Consequently, foods regulated by the FDA have been involved in twice the number of outbreaks as foods regulated by the USDA.

"With so many bureaucrats in the kitchen, breakdowns can and do occur," the report continues. "A single agency with one mission--ensuring the food we eat is safe would reduce the risk that contamination would make its way from food to fork. It would mean safer food." Until then, all the group can do is lobby, and hope. "We're watching closely the increase in outbreaks," says DeWaal. "We never want to get to the point where we have to advise people only to eat their vegetables cooked."

Heading Off Food Poisoning

The best way to be safe from most strains of bacteria is to cook all food to 160 [degrees] F, but that's not an option for salads and other raw foods. So we asked Caroline Smith DeWaal, food-safety director at the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) for tips on steering clear of food-borne illnesses.

* Wash all fruits and vegetables under running water--including prepackaged salads, everything. Peeling definitely helps too.

* Wash hands well, along with any surfaces that have come into contact with raw meat or eggs.

* Pat produce dry to remove any bacteria that may be lingering in the water.

* Buy the freshest produce possible. If there is bacterial contamination, it will have had less time to multiply and you have a better chance of washing it off.

* Children, the elderly and those with compromised immune systems should avoid sprouts altogether.

* Visit CSPI's Web site: And for a listing of recalled foods, visit

COPYRIGHT 1999 Sabot Publishing
COPYRIGHT 2000 Gale Group

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