Beware of these bacteria responsible for food poisoning

Despite advances in health, advances in risk assessment and management, millions of people around the world continue to contract infections from bacteria (some of which produce toxins), viruses or parasites after eating contaminated food. Almost 16,000 cases of “food poisoning” were registered in France in 2019.

While the Covid crisis has temporarily reduced the number of zoonoses (diseases caused by pathogens transmitted from animals to humans), the general trend is upwards. The main pathogens generally remain the same, as shown in the latest EFSA (European Food Safety Authority) report. In 2020 these were bacteria:

  • campylobacter
  • salmonella
  • Yersinia enterocolitica and Y. pseudotuberculosis
  • Escherichia coli (EHEC)
  • Listeria monocytogenes

Depending on the year of manufacture Yersinia, E. coli and Listeria monocytogenes can switch ranks between them. The following diseases include echinococcosis, tuberculosis, brucellosis, West Nile virus infection, etc.

So that everyone can be an actor of his own safety, here is the information on the types of contamination, the risks and the precautions to be taken or monitored: A better understanding and characterization of the hazard and its monitoring will allow solutions to be proposed around it to control. Knowing that a third of foodborne illnesses are contracted at home, everyone can take action to limit that risk.

campylobacterleading cause of food poisoning in Europe and France

Campylobacter can cause acute enteritis with fever, headache, etc. Complications are possible with the passage of the bacteria in the blood (one in a hundred cases) – De Wood/Pooley/USDA/ARS/EMU (via The Conversation)

In France, there are just over six cases of infection per 100,000 inhabitants, but this figure is grossly underestimated because many cases go unrecorded. Campylobacteriosis most commonly presents as acute enteritis (inflammation of the small intestine) with symptoms including diarrhea (85% of cases), abdominal pain (79%), fever (50%), headache (41%), bloody stools, and vomiting (15th %) caused by an intestinal infection.

These bacteria have a reservoir in the digestive tract of poultry – so we can have up to several million per gram of faeces. In chicken production, the risks of infection are significant: if the slaughter process does not comply with health recommendations, the bacteria found on the carcasses can be transferred to the deboned products intended for consumption.

But handling poultry in the kitchen can also be a source of infection: bacteria can be transmitted above Cutting boards and utensils (e.g. knives) versus raw vegetables when cleaning is poorly done or absent. This contamination can occur before, but also after cooking if the dishes are not changed or washed. Also watch out for undercooked products, for example when grilling or a Chinese fondue.

How can you protect yourself?
Vigilance must be applied at all levels of the production chain, from farm to consumer.

In particular, at farm, slaughterhouse and processing plant level, good biosecurity control makes it possible to reduce the amount of bacteria upstream in the digestive tract of animals. Adherence to good slaughter and processing practices is also essential.

The consumer can influence the hygiene in his kitchen. It is recommended not to cross the raw and cooking circuits, to clean and disinfect the surfaces and utensils used and to respect the cooking temperatures.

salmonellathe leading cause of collective foodborne illness in France

Second cause of zoonoses after campylobacter, Salmonella is the most common cause of collective foodborne illness or “TIAC” (39% in France). They cause gastroenteritis, which can be severe, but not only – especially in vulnerable people.

After ingestion, Salmonella (in red) passes through the intestinal wall and reaches the mesenteric lymph nodes, where it releases toxins
Salmonella (in red) passes through the intestinal wall after ingestion and reaches the mesenteric lymph nodes, where it releases toxins – Rocky Mountain Laboratories/NIAID/NIH (via The Conversation)

The offending foods are varied, ranging from ready meals and mixed salads to pizzas and sandwiches … And this time in addition to poultry, shellfish, fish, eggs and egg-based products, meat, cured meats, cheese and dairy products can carry infections cause. For 30% off TIAC salmonellawould the consumption of eggs or egg products be associated with it.

Poultry regulations, particularly laying hens, have helped reduce cases of salmonellosis. Unfortunately, some farms are still seeing a recurrence of cases due to a specific type of Salmonella (S. Enteritidis).

How can you protect yourself?
Control options exist at all levels of the production chain, from the farm to the consumer.

At the level of farms and slaughterhouses and processing plants, the regulations in force must be complied with, a powerful tool that has proven its effectiveness. Increased surveillance makes it possible to anticipate the spread of contamination detected at source.

At the consumer level, advice on hygiene in the kitchen (cleaning and disinfecting surfaces and utensils), maintaining temperatures when cooking and storing eggs and fresh produce is once again absolutely relevant.

Listeria monocytogenesso hard to comprehend

In France, 350 to 400 cases of listeriosis occur every year. In isolation, they have an origin that is all the more difficult to trace.

Listeria are found everywhere in the soil and are very resistant (to pH, temperature, etc.)
Listeria is ubiquitous in soil and is very resilient (to changes in pH, temperature, etc.) – Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (via The Conversation)

Listeriosis is a rare but serious infection (second cause of foodborne deaths in France), which is also persistent and recurrent. This is particularly because its reservoirs are varied and numerous, with new sources of contamination appearing regularly: raw milk cheeses, smoked fish, raw shellfish, cured meats (rillettes, pies, foie gras, jellies, ham, etc.) , but also raw sprouted seeds (soy, etc. ), frozen fruits and vegetables…

Elderly or immunocompromised people, pregnant women and newborns are particularly at risk.

How can you protect yourself?
Above all, it is compliance with good practices in food production and processing plants that makes it possible to avoid contamination. ANSES develops best practice and hygiene guides for professionals to ensure food safety. It also develops methods for data analysis and microbiological risk control.

E. coli (EHEC), watch out for children

Enterohemorrhagic coliform bacteria (EHEC or STEC), which are responsible for hemolytic-uremic syndrome or HUS, can be present in the intestinal flora of cattle, which means they can be found in ground beef after poor preparation (ground meat brings in external contamination ) , but not only: vegetables, flour, milk products are not harmless.

The danger stems from the fact that a small dose of pathogens is enough to be contagious and the medical consequences are serious (stomach cramps, sometimes bloody diarrhea, etc.) – young children are particularly vulnerable, as are immunocompromised people.

How can you protect yourself?
Again, adherence to best practices at production and processing plants and extensive surveillance in the frozen ground beef industry has allowed these contaminations to be made rare. Also, always keep this in mind when a food is contaminated with E. coli If not cooked through, the bacteria will stay alive.

Important advice on how to limit the risks

To avoid cross-contamination, raw and cooked foods should not be mixed, and surfaces and utensils used should be cleaned and disinfected between each use.
To avoid cross-contamination, raw and cooked should not be mixed, and used surfaces and utensils should be cleaned and disinfected between each use – Kathrinerajalingam/Shutterstock (via The Conversation)

ANSES has identified simple actions anyone can take when preparing meals or storing food:

  • Wash hands with soap and water
  • Avoid preparing meals if you have gastroenteritis
  • Clean your fridge at least once a year and when something has been spilled in it
  • For meat, fish etc. special equipment (knife, board, etc.)
  • Food should not be kept at room temperature for more than 2 hours before being placed in the refrigerator
  • For delicatessen, ready meals, cream pastries, etc. Do not store longer than three days
  • The coldest part of the refrigerator should be 4°C
  • Vulnerable people (small children, pregnant women, immunocompromised people) must consume their ground beef well cooked and raw foods (meat, fish, dairy, etc.) are not recommended for them.
  • Infant meals and bottles should not be stored longer than 48 hours at 4°C

Maintaining the cold chain is also essential. A few pointers: Make sure your frozen food doesn’t thaw between store and home (use an insulated bag, etc.), don’t overload your refrigerator and monitor the internal temperature, consume the food quickly after thawing.

This analysis was written by Marianne ChemalyHead of Unit and Director of Research Projects at the National Agency for Food, Environment and Occupational Health and Safety (ANSES).
The original article was published on the website of The conversation.

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