Food Safety – Common Parasites and Bacteria Thriving in Our Foods

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Food borne diseases, parasites, and bacteria have become a major concern. But, with proper food handling and cooking, this issue can easily be eliminated.

Processing facilities struggle to maintain sanitation and proper food handling techniques by utilizing HACCP and SSOPs in their establishments. While these practices greatly decrease the possibility of bacterial contamination, it is up to consumers to fully cook their food to further eliminate any parasites or bacteria that may have developed after the product left the establishment.

Bacteria in Foods

There are a large number of bacteria that are common in foods – including various strains of E. coli, Salmonella, and Listeria Monocytogenes; these are the three most common. These bacteria are usually entered into the food chain by improper and unsanitary food handling techniques.

Unsanitary dressing procedures from beef slaughtering establishments, swine slaughter, and poultry slaughter can lead to contamination from these bacteria. If the contaminated carcasses are not properly treated with some form of lethality step, such as an acetic acid wash, the bacteria can continue to multiply and grow and eventually cause sickness. It is very important to develop proper sanitary dressing procedures to help eliminate these bacteria.

E. coli, Salmonella, and Listeria Monocytogenes

  • Although there are many strains of E. coli that are harmless, the most deadly of these bacteria is E. coliO157:H7. This bacterium can be very deadly to young children, elderly, and those with weak immune systems. These bacteria are known to thrive in any meat product – but most commonly uncooked beef products.
  • Salmonella is also an organism that derives from the digestive system in animals. This particular bacterium is most commonly linked to swine slaughtering facilities and poultry slaughter. While not as deadly as E. coli O157:H7, Salmonella infection can still cause a person to develop a high fever and diarrhea. In extreme cases where the bacterium spreads to the blood stream and contaminates the body, death can occur.
  • Listeria Monocytogenes is a bacterium that can be found in “fully cooked” food products such as bologna, hot dogs, milk, cheese, and sandwich meats. Again, improper food handling practices in the processing facility is the most likely reason for contamination of these bacteria. A clean processing facility will almost be guaranteed a safe and wholesome product.

Parasites in Meat

Another concern with meat is parasites. Livestock live in environments where they are subject to cross contamination with fecal waste from other livestock, and they often consume the fecal matters due to pen crowding. Exposure to the outside elements can also add to parasite infection.

Livestock are often treated for parasite infestation – which also gives the possibility of consumption of the chemical residues left from the parasite treatment. While poultry and beef are subject to parasite infection, the swine is the most likely animal to be infected.

  • Trichinosis is a parasitic disease caused from a parasite known as Trichinella spiralis, or more commonly known as the “trichina worm”. The trichina worm is a species of roundworm which infects the muscle tissue of swine. When this parasite is consumed by humans, the disease is called Trichinosis. Symptoms of Trichinosis include: fever, muscle soreness, pain, gastrointestinal symptoms, and facial edema. Trichina worms enter the body by consuming improperly cooked pork. Freezing pork also helps destroy Trichinosis.
  • Toxoplasma gondii is another common parasite that can be found throughout the world. This parasite is transferred to humans by consuming undercooked meats such as pork, lamb or wild game – and it can be transferred to humans by drinking contaminated water. One interesting factor about Toxoplasma gondii is that it that it can only reproduce through cats.
  • Taenia Saginata, the Tapeworm is very common throughout both animals and humans. Transfer of this parasite to human is basically the same as most other parasites – eating uncooked beef and pork meat products.

Cooking food Thoroughly Kills Bacteria and Parasites

It’s simple to control and destroy bacteria and parasites in food products. When meat is purchased from the grocery store or meat market; it is normally stored (or should be stored) in a refrigerated case or freezer.

Storing meat products at a low temperature (normally less than 40°F) greatly reduces bacterial growth. When meat is purchased, make sure it is cold and has a nice “bloomed” appearance. The meat should also stay cool on the way home – so make sure all other stops have been done before purchasing meat.

Washing and cooking meat thoroughly will destroy bacteria and parasites. While most people take extra caution with pork and poultry, the same precautions should be taken with beef as well. Those who would rather consume rare beef, pork, or poultry are more likely to become infected with some form of bacteria or parasite then those who consume fully cooked foods. All meats should be cooked thoroughly to at least 160°F before consuming, and leftovers should be refrigerated as soon as possible to prevent bacterial growth.

Following this short and simple process will help prevent bacterial or parasitic contamination.

References:

  • Center for Disease Control and Prevention, Salmonellosis, 11/16/2009
  • U.S. Food and Drug Administration, BBB – Listeria monocytogenes, 6/18/2009
  • USDA, Trichinae, Pork Facts – Food Quality and Safety, H. Ray Gamble, page researched 12/10/2010
  • USDA, Fact Sheets, Parasites and Foodborne Illness, 6/2/2010

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