Microbial Contamination of Food

Foodborne illnesses remain a major risk globally. Each year, unsafe food makes at least 2 billion people ill worldwide, which is about one third of the global population. Furthermore, food- and waterborne diarrheal diseases are leading causes of illness and death in less developed countries, killing approximately 1.8 million people annually, most of whom are children. Obtaining accurate estimates of the incidence of specific microbial foodborne illnesses is often difficult in many areas of the world. A population-based study in the Netherlands estimated a total annual incidence of gastroenteritis to be 28%, without attributing the degree of foodborne or microbiological etiology. In the United States, it has been estimated that 76 million cases of foodborne diseases may occur each year, resulting in 325,000 hospitalizations and 5000 deaths. Important sources of foodborne pathogens include contaminated produce and improperly cooked, handled, or stored meat and poultry products. Major pathogens in foodborne diseases worldwide include salmonella, campylobacter, Escherichia coli 0157, cholera, and listeriosis. Furthermore, microbial and chemical sources can pose significant health risks for certain vulnerable populations such as the elderly, children, pregnant women, those in institutionalized settings, and the immunocompromised (13-21).

Milk and meat obtained from infected animals is another threat to food safety. Important zoonotic foodborne illnesses worldwide are tuberculosis due to Mycobacterium bovis, Campylobacter spp., verotoxigenic E. coli, and Brucella abortis from ingestion of contaminated, raw unpasteurized milk.

Farmers, farm families, and visitors to farms should be advised about the risks associated with the consumption of unpasteurized milk from any animal species. M. bovis infection in humans has also been reported to occur after consumption of contaminated meat (22).

To reduce the global burden of foodborne illnesses, the WHO and the Food and Agricultural Organization of the United Nations released the Five Keys Strategy on October 13, 2004, in Bangkok, Thailand at the second Global Forum of Food Safety Regulators. The five simple measures consist of:

1. Keeping hands and cooking surfaces clean.

2. Separating raw and cooked food.

3. Cooking food thoroughly.

4. Keeping food stored at safe temperatures.

5. Using safe water and raw ingredient(s) (13).

Other methods recommended by WHO in the past include eating cooked food immediately, reheating cooked food thoroughly, keeping all kitchen surfaces meticulously clean, and protecting food from insects, rodents, and other animals (23).

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