Causes of Food Poisoning

Food poisoning (can also be called food borne illness) is sickness/illness caused by eating contaminated food item(s) and water. Contamination of water and food may be caused by bacteria, virus, parasites, by toxins produced by microorganisms.

Contamination of food and water (hence water purification by water purifier and water filter is required) may occur anytime between production (growing, harvesting, processing, storing, shipping or preparing) of food to eating of food. Contamination may also occur from one surface to another and such type of contamination is particularly common for ready to eat foods (such as salads and other foods that are not cooked before consumption). Food poisoning or food contamination may be caused by bacteria, virus, parasites and following agents may cause contamination of food:

  • Staphylococcus aureus: this organism has one of the shortest incubation period for food poisoning, 1 hour to 6 hours. Affected foods include meat and prepared salads, cream sauces, and cream-filled pastries. The bacteria can also be spread by hand contact, coughing and sneezing.
  • coli strain O157:H7 is responsible for food poisoning. The incubation period is 1 day to 8 days. Beef contaminated with feces during slaughter in developed countries and by drinking unsafe water in developing countries the common mode of transmission. Other sources include unpasteurized milk and apple cider, alfalfa sprouts etc.
  • Clostridium botulinum: The incubation period is 12 hours to 3 days. Improperly canned commercial foods as well as home canned foods, smoked or salted fish, potatoes baked in aluminum foil, and other foods kept at warm temperatures for too long can lead to growth of bacteria and cause food poisoning.
  • Clostridium perfringens: The incubation period is short 8 hours to 16 hours. Meats, stews and gravies are common sources of food poisoning. It can spread when serving dishes don’t keep food hot enough or food is chilled too slowly.
  • Salmonella: this is the organism that usually causes typhoid fever or enteric fever. This organism may also cause food poisoning. The incubation period is 1 day to 3 days. Raw or contaminated meat, poultry, milk or egg yolks are common source of salmonella food poisoning. Salmonella can survives inadequate cooking. Fomite transmission by knives, cutting surfaces or an infected food handler is also common. Unsafe drinking water is the commonest source of salmonella food poisoning.
  • Campylobacter: The incubation period is 2 days to 5 days. Meat and poultry are common source of food poisoning. Contamination occurs during processing. Other sources campylobacter include unpasteurized milk and contaminated drinking water.
  • Rotavirus: this is common problem for infants. However, adults are mostly immune to rotavirus. The incubation period is 1 day to 3 days. Raw, ready-to-eat food can cause food poisoning. Rotavirus be spread by an infected food handler as well as by unsafe drinking water.
  • There are also other organisms (bacteria, viruses and other) that may cause food poisoning such as giardia lamblia, hepatitis A, listeria, Norwalk like viruses, shigella, vibrio vulnificus etc.

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