How consumption of stale food may lead to foodborne illness caused by bacteria, viruses, parasites

Foodborne diseases are illnesses that result from the ingestion of contaminated food. More than 250 different foodborne hazards have been recognised including bacteria, viruses, parasites and their toxins.

Bacteria like Salmonella, Clostridium perfringens, Campylobacter, Vibrio cholera, Staphylococcus aureus, Listeria monocytogenes, and Escherichia coli including Shiga toxin-producing E. coli are frequently the cause of food borne illness.

Viruses like Norovirus, Rotavirus, and Hepatitis A and E are common causes of food-borne illnesses.

Parasites that are found commonly include Amebiasis, Giardia, Toxoplasma Gondii, and cyclospora.

Common symptoms of these foodborne illnesses include vomiting, diarrhoea (with or without blood), abdominal cramping, fever, headache, dehydration, and muscle and joint pains.

Certain foodstuffs are commonly associated with the contamination with a particular pathogen, though not definitive, but may give a vague idea of which might be the pathogen involved. Some of the examples are discussed below.

• Improperly stored or uncooked rice – Bacillus cereus

• Contaminated water – Campylobacter, Vibrio Cholera, Hepatitis A and E, and many other viral and parasitic pathogens

• Cheese, inadequately pasteurized milk products – Listeria, Brucella

• Water or food contaminated by human feces (oro-fecal transmission) – E. coli, Shigella, etc

• Eggs, poultry, contaminated raw fruits, and vegetables – Salmonella Typhi

• Canned foods, Stale fish, stale potatoes – Clostridium Botulinum

There are certain foods like mushrooms that can cause poisoning due to the toxins produced within and can cause mild illnesses to even death in rare cases.

This list gives a glimpse of the common food contaminants which can be avoided using simple measures such as

  1. Hand washing before preparing food.
  2. Drinking filtered water or boiled water.
  3. Washing vegetables and fruits with clean and potable water before consuming raw or cooking. Also ensure adequate cleaning of meat, poultry, and sea foods before cooking.
  4. To ensure certain foodstuffs like meat, poultry, rice, milk, etc which have a shorter shelf life are consumed fresh.
  5. Generally avoid stale foods, but in case of storage, ensure proper refrigeration to prevent bacterial growth.
  6. To avoid outside food as much as possible as there are more chances of contamination.

Hence in conclusion many organisms cause food poisoning and the cause is either contaminated water or infected, stale foodstuffs. Proper handling of these foodstuffs and ensuring simple, hygienic cooking practices avoid these foodborne illnesses thus preventing major morbidity including hospitalizations.

The author is Consultant Gastroenterologist, Endoscopist and Hepatologist, Masina Hospital. Views are personal.

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