The US Center for Disease Control estimates about 48 million food poisoning cases a year, out of which 128,000 cases remain serious enough to warrant hospitalization, and about 3,000 cases cause deaths. The main cause of food poisoning is consumption of contaminated food; the top five reasons for contamination are: natural contaminants of food, contamination of water, improper processing, poor handling and poor personal hygiene.
Natural contaminants in soil or water is a major causative factor. Raw oysters and mussels remain high-risk food items as they thrive in contaminated seawater. Similarly, beef-based items such as hot dogs, luncheon meats, unpasteurized milk, cheeses and unwashed raw produce all remain at risk - owing to contamination in the soil and water in which the food sources grow. Cooking destroys most of the bacterial activity in raw food such as eggs, beef and other meat, and failure to cook the food properly leads to the bacteria inherent in the raw food passing on to humans. Poorly cooked or stored fish, for instance, leads to scombroid poisoning. Other foods, such as Amantia mushrooms, and fish such as grouper, snapper and barracuda contain harmful toxins that remain poisonous when consumed in any form.
Another cause is drinking contaminated water inflected with pork tapeworms - a problem especially rife in third-world countries where piped water is rarely safe. Drinking water from lakes and rivers in offbeat locations outsize civilization also runs the risk of poisoning, as beavers, muskrats or grazing sheep may contaminate such water.
Inadequate Processing and Poor Personal Hygiene
Failure to adopt safety and hygiene procedures, or adhere to regulations at the time of food preparation and processing leads to food poisoning. Meat and poultry can become contaminated during processing if it comes in contact with animal feces, unpasteurized milk and/or contaminated water. Beef especially remains highly susceptible to contamination during slaughtering owing to the contamination in the knife, cutting surface or an infected handler. Food handlers not observing basic hygiene such as covering hands and face also increase the risk of bacterial infection.
Not washing hands before eating or handling food when ill accounts for one out of four cases of food poisoning. The hand, which touches many places invariably, hosts a multitude of germs and bacteria, which if not washed away easily transfer to food products. Similarly, the illness inside the body can spill over to the food you touch through body pores, or by coughing and sneezing. Make sure to wash hands with soap before eating, and wash hands with antibacterial soap and hot water immediately before each stage of the cooking process.
Another main cause of food poisoning is poor handling of cooked food. Poor handling relates to inadequate cooling and refrigeration, preparing food ahead of time increasing the risk of bacterial activity, and failure to serve food hot. More than half the cases of food contamination occur owing to foods left out at room temperature for more than four hours. Always cover and freeze food that would not be consumed, or not consumed within four hours. Food such as shellfish, raw eggs and milk turn stale and contaminated very fast if left at normal room temperatures. Bacterial spores infect cooked meat stored at warm temperatures.
Preparing food ahead of time increases the chance of the food undergoing various temperature changes, and cause bacterial activity. For instance, when breading chicken for frying, the chicken is removed from the refrigerator and allowed to drop to near room temperature before the process is complete and the chicken placed back in the refrigerator. During the time the chicken remains outside the refrigerator, it can easily become contaminated.
Always reheat leftovers that have been refrigerated to above 165 Fahrenheit degrees before consumption. Leftover foods usually have some bacterial activity and temperatures above 165 degrees Fahrenheit makes it impossible for the bacteria to survive. Serve cooked foods above 140 degrees Fahrenheit to avoid contamination and bacterial activity.
Adherence to the basic tips mentioned above and following healthy eating guidelines and food habits preempt food poisoning and contribute to a healthy lifestyle.
Mayo Clinic, Food Poisoning
MedicineNet, What are the Causes of Food Poisoning?
eMedicineHealth, [Food Poisoning Causes](https://www.emedicinehealth.com/food_poisoning/page2_em.htm#Food Poisoning Causes)
Image Credit: freedigitalphotos.net/Ambro
This post is part of the series: Food Poisoning - Causes, Symptoms, Prevention & Treatment
In this Food Safety article series, you’ll learn the causes and symptoms of food poisoning, as well as tips on preventing and treating food poisoning.