Savouring a delicious meal can turn into a severe illness if the food is contaminated with pathogens – a serious concern worries food businesses. From bacteria to viruses, there are invisible threats that can lurk in our meals and cause serious foodborne illness.
Hence, awareness of food pathogens is essential for maintaining public health and safety. With this knowledge, authorities, farmers, and consumers can recognise, avoid, and effectively handle foodborne illnesses.
Furthermore, a thorough understanding of food pathogens can help maintain the health of people, reduce the financial strain on healthcare systems, and protect the general welfare of the population.
In this blog, we have discussed food pathogens, their types, and the risks they pose to food safety. We have encapsulated expert advice for food businesses to defend against them.
The likelihood of infection can be reduced by implementing adequate hygiene practices, efficient food storage methods, and cooking procedures after being aware of the hazards connected to certain foodborne pathogens.
Food pathogens are bacteria or biological agents that, when ingested through contaminated food or water, can result in sickness or illness. These can contaminate a variety of food kinds, including meats, dairy products, fruits, and vegetables. They also include bacteria, viruses, parasites, and fungi.
From minor gastrointestinal problems to life-threatening illnesses, foodborne bacteria can cause serious health problems.
Common Food Pathogens
Understanding the typical categories of food pathogens is crucial for food safety. These tiny organisms have the potential to cause foodborne diseases, which can result in uncomfortable symptoms and occasionally even grave health issues.
Here is a summary of the most typical food pathogen types:
1) Bacterial Pathogens
Below are the various bacterial pathogens that can cause food poisoning or serious foodborne illnesses.
This bacteria is frequently discovered in unpasteurized milk, poultry, and raw eggs. It may result in diarrhoea, fever, and cramps in the abdomen.
Escherichia coli (E. coli):
Bloody diarrhoea, vomiting, and renal failure are just a few of the severe food poisoning symptoms caused by specific E. coli strains. Raw vegetables and contaminated ground beef are frequently known sources.
Listeria bacteria are commonly present in dairy products, deli meats, and chilled ready-to-eat meals. In pregnant women and individuals with weakened immune systems, infection from listeria can lead to symptoms resembling the flu and result in severe consequences.
Campylobacter, which is frequently present in undercooked chicken and unpasteurized milk, can result in fever, cramps, and diarrhoea.
This pathogenic bacteria creates a powerful toxin that has the potential to lead to the rare but dangerous condition of botulism. Foods that have been improperly canned or kept may contain Clostridium botulinum spores.
2) Viral Pathogens
Norovirus is a highly infectious illness-causing pathogen known for spreading gastroenteritis. It can spread from person to person as well as through tainted food and water.
A viral illness called hepatitis A can inflame the liver. The virus can spread through contaminated food and water, especially in places with inadequate sanitation.
3) Parasitic Pathogens
These tiny parasites can contaminate food and drink, leading to digestive disorders.
e.g., Giardia, Cryptosporidium.
Consuming raw or undercooked meat from diseased animals can cause parasitic worm infections, which can have a serious impact on the body’s numerous organs and tissues.
For example – Taenia Solium and Trichinella etc.
4) Fungal Pathogens
Harmful Moulds and Yeasts
It’s essential to be aware that some moulds and yeasts have the ability to create mycotoxins. These toxins have the potential to contaminate crops, grains, and other food items, and consuming them can result in negative health consequences.
Common examples include – Aspergillus, Penicillium, and Fusarium species.
5) Toxin-Producing Pathogens
This bacterium can form spores that produce toxins in improperly cooked or stored food. Consuming contaminated food can lead to intense abdominal cramps and diarrhoea.
Staphylococcus aureus, which is found on human skin and in the nose, can release toxins that result in food poisoning. Its development may be aided by poor food handling and inadequate refrigeration.
Bacillus cereus can produce toxins in certain food conditions like long-cooked rice dishes. Consuming food contaminated with these bacteria can result in diarrhoea or vomiting.
Foodborne illnesses, sometimes referred to as food poisoning, are illnesses brought on by ingesting tainted food or beverages. Usually, the bacteria, viruses, parasites, or poisons found in the diet are what cause these disorders.
Types of Pathogens Causing Foodborne Illnesses
There are certain types of pathogens that can cause foodborne illnesses when consumed via contaminated food items.
Salmonella, E. coli, and Campylobacter are a few examples of bacterium pathogens. Food can get contaminated by these microorganisms during manufacture, processing, storage, or handling.
Hepatitis A and norovirus are two typical foodborne illness-causing viruses. It is possible for these viruses to spread through tainted food or water.
Undercooked meat, infected water, and unwashed fruits and vegetables are all sources of parasites like Giardia and Trichinella.
When consumed via contaminated food, toxins produced by bacteria like Staphylococcus aureus and Clostridium botulinum can result in foodborne diseases.
Symptoms and Risks of Foodborne Illnesses
Foods infected with pathogens can cause a range of symptoms, including:
- Nausea and vomiting.
- Abdominal pain and cramps.
While most foodborne infections are minor and self-resolving, some people, including small children, the elderly, pregnant women, and those with compromised immune systems, are more likely to have serious consequences.
Impact of Food Pathogens on Public Health and Economy
Public health as well as the economy are significantly impacted by foodborne infections. Millions of individuals experience these infections every year, which can cause hospitalisations, long-term health impacts, and in some extreme situations, even death. Medical expenditures lost productivity, and expenses related to investigations and food recalls are all part of the financial burden of foodborne infections.
Transmission of Food Pathogens
There are various ways in which food pathogens can spread. One of the common ways is through contaminated water. When microorganisms are present in the water used to prepare or clean food, they can easily spread to the food and cause illness when consumed. Another way is through direct contact with those who are sick. If food workers are unhygienic or have an infectious condition, they may inadvertently contaminate the food they touch.
Raw components that have been handled or procured poorly can potentially contaminate meals. Pathogens can readily spread to the prepared food during processing or cooking if they are present in the raw materials.
Proper Food Handling and Storage Practices to Prevent Contamination
- Use distinct cutting boards and utensils for raw meat, poultry, and seafood to avoid cross-contamination.
- Wash hands properly before and after handling food, especially raw materials.
- To stop bacterial development, ensure food is stored at standard recommended temperatures. Store perishable goods in the refrigerator.
- Properly seal and store leftovers to reduce the possibility of bacterial development.
- Avoid storing food at room temperature for prolonged periods of time since this raises the risk of bacterial growth.
Cooking Temperatures and Timings
It is essential to cook food at the proper temperature to eradicate dangerous bacteria. Since cooking periods alone might not be sufficient to get rid of pathogens, it is crucial to use a food thermometer to make sure that the interior temperature of cooked food reaches the appropriate level. Foodborne infections are substantially less likely when food is prepared properly.
Sanitation Practices in Food Preparation Area
To prevent foodborne infections, it is crucial to keep the space where food is prepared clean and sanitised. Cutting boards, utensils, and other food-contact surfaces can help lower the risk of contamination by routinely cleaning and sanitising them. Maintaining clean hands, using gloves when necessary, and preventing cross-contamination between various food products are all examples of good sanitation practices.
Consumer Awareness and Education
Foodborne disease prevention is greatly aided by consumer education and awareness. Pathogen transmission can be slowed down by educating people on safe food handling procedures, suitable food storage methods, and the dangers of ingesting contaminated food. A healthier and safer food supply chain can result from educating customers about food safety regulations and encouraging them to take the appropriate safeguards.
Notification of Prescribed Pathogens by Food Businesses
In Australia, significant food poisoning events have been linked to Salmonella species, Listeria monocytogenes, Shigella species, and verotoxigenic E. coli.
As a result, the Regulations impose mandatory notification obligations on the laboratory’s isolation of certain pathogens.
The notification of these pathogens means that Anitech’s experienced consultants are able to help food businesses manage the risks posed by their use of these products or by the presence of these pathogens on their property, ensuring the safety of food offered for sale in Australia.
Legal Framework for Notification
Once aware of the isolation or suspected isolation of a specified pathogen, the owner of a food business is required to notify the Chief Executive Officer of the Department of Health (CEO).
The individual who oversees a laboratory is accountable for informing the CEO of a food organisation in Australia regarding any identified pathogens. It’s essential to understand that the laboratory supervisor should also notify the CEO as soon as a pathogen is isolated or suspected to have been isolated.
It’s crucial to remember that this criterion applies in cases when a designated pathogen may have been identified. Even when the isolation of Listeria monocytogenes cannot be proven, suspicion should be raised.
FSANZ (Food Safety Standards Australia New Zealand)
All food businesses and analytical laboratories operating in Australia) should comply with the guidelines and mandatory requirements of FSANZ or the Food Safety Standards Australia New Zealand). These guidelines seek to reduce the occurrence of foodborne disease by improving food safety and traceability across the food supply chain, from paddock to plate. They provide guidelines on pathogens and allergens that can harm consumer health, tests and precautions to be taken. Furthermore, the standard Labelling guidelines of FSANZ can help consumers to have an idea of allergens if any present in the product they are buying.
Post Notification Action
A representative from either the Food Unit or the local government may contact the food business to inquire about the type of isolation and any actions taken by the establishment to manage potential hazards.
Safety Responsibilities of Food Businesses
Businesses that handle food should ensure they have policies in place to deal with notifications of the presence of a disease. This can include isolating the batch sampled, initiating a food recall decision matrix, and taking corrective action.
A review of food safety procedures and practices should always follow reporting of the existence or suspected presence of a disease.
Procedure for Notification
The flow diagram below provides an overview of the procedure for notification.
Form Requirements for Notification of Food-borne Pathogens
For the purposes of Regulation 15 of the Food Regulations 2009 the approved form to be completed by a proprietor of a food business or the person in charge of a laboratory for the suspicion/isolation of pathogen from food, a person, premises, a vehicle or anything associated with the food business, must include the information specified below:
- Name of the prescribed pathogen.
- Name and address of Food Business.
- Location and Sampling date.
- Details of food/source of sample
- Key Measures taken by the food business.
- Trade and brand name
- pack size, date marking, and batch code (if applicable)
- Name and address of the laboratory that isolates the prescribed pathogen.
- Date when the sample was received for testing.
- Date when the prescribed pathogen was suspected/isolated.
- Date, time, and person at DOH verbally notified.
- Additional important information concerning the product like raw or ready-to-eat food.
- If the product is present in the marketplace.
- Date, designation, and signature of the person submitting the notice.
The form can also consist of other necessary information, which is not specified.
Pathogens Requiring Notification
Food-borne pathogens that need notification are as follows:
- Listeria monocytogenes.
- Salmonella species – all.
- Shigella species – all.
- verotoxigenic E.coli.
Our consultants can help your organisation defend against Food Pathogens, call us today at 1300 802 163 or e-mail – email@example.com.
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