Numerous, reputation-crushing product recall disasters within the meat industry have resulted in public outcry over a seeming lack of due diligence by the meat industry to ensure their products are safe. Centers for Disease Control estimates that each year roughly one in six Americans – that’s 48 million people – suffer illness as a result of foodborne diseases, and close to 3,000 of these illnesses end in death. The result has been a governmental shift in both regulations and legislation to ensure food safety dictates continuous advances in all pathogen testing processes.
To date, inaccurate, time-consuming and costly testing systems have left food producers, processors and manufacturers feeling helpless as more and more consumers lose trust in their products. Producers, processors and manufacturers around the world, anxious to earn back the trust of their consumers, eagerly seek a proven and safe pathogen testing method that offers faster time-to-results, flawless test results and all at a low cost. That is exactly what the FoodChek™ ACTERO™ Enrichment Media provides!
E. coli O157:H7
Escherichia coli, or E. coli for short, is a very common bacterium both found in food and produced naturally in the human body. There are literally hundreds of unique strains of E. coli and they vary from those that are harmless to others that can cause serious illness or death.
The non-pathogenic strains of E. coli (the ones that do not cause disease) are found naturally throughout the intestinal tract of both humans and animals. But other strains of E. coli can cause severe sickness in humans and include painful symptoms such as diarrhea and infections within the genital and urinary tracts.
The most notorious type of pathogenic E. coli is known as E. coli O157:H7. The name refers to the chemical compounds found on the surface of the bacterium. This strain was identified in 1982 following an outbreak of diarrhea that came as a result of people eating undercooked beef. The O157:H7 E. coli strain belongs to a group of bacteria known as “Shiga toxin-producing” E. coli, or STEC for short. It is found in the intestinal tract of ruminants, such as cows.
Most E. coli O157:H7 infections resolve spontaneously and require no treatment; however, supportive treatment is usually quickly required if the patient becomes dehydrated, anemic or develops Hemolytic Uremic Syndrome (HUS) or Thrombotic Thrombocytopenic Purpura (TTP), which is blocked kidney filtration damage.
E. coli O157:H7 is notorious because, in worst-case scenarios, it can sometimes present additional complications including anemia and dehydration for children (termed HUS) and spontaneous bleeding, organ failures and mental changes in the elderly (termed TTP). Depending on how quickly blood transfusions can be initiated, some of these patients can develop permanent disabilities or even die.
Outbreaks of E. coli O157:H7-induced illness have been common in recent years in Europe and North America, causing public outcry against the food industry, demanding that stricter regulations and more accurate testing methods be applied to all food products that have the potential to be contaminated with E. coli.
Salmonella species (spp.) is a group of bacteria commonly found in the intestines of animals and birds. The bacteria can be transmitted to people when they eat foods contaminated with animal feces. Most often, contaminated foods are of animal origin, such as beef, poultry, milk or eggs; however, all foods, including fruits and vegetables, have the potential to become contaminated.
People who eat food contaminated by Salmonella can become ill with salmonellosis. Symptoms of salmonellosis can include diarrhea, vomiting, stomach cramps and fever.
Another way that humans can come into contact with Salmonella is when they become exposed to unclean surfaces that have been used to prepare raw meat, or if they eat fruits and vegetables that have not been properly washed. Food handlers who have not thoroughly washed their hands after handling raw meat or after using the bathroom can also contaminate food.
Salmonella can be present on exotic pets like snakes, turtles and other reptiles. Dogs and cats can also carry the salmonella bacteria even when they themselves are perfectly healthy. Foods for these pets can also be contaminated with Salmonella bacteria. Individuals can become infected by not washing up properly after coming in contact with their pets.
Not everyone that has become infected with the bacteria will get sick or even show symptoms, but that doesn’t stop them from acting as carriers of the bacteria and they can still spread the infection to others.
Listeria spp. and Listeria monocytogenes
Listeria spp. and Listeria monocytogenes (commonly called Listeria) is a type of bacterium most commonly found in food and environmental surfaces, but that also exists elsewhere in nature. Left untreated, it can lead to a rare but serious disease called listeriosis, especially among pregnant women, the elderly or individuals with a weakened immune system. In more serious cases, it can eventually lead to brain infection and even death.
While a large number of people could potentially become carriers of Listeria, very few will actually develop listeriosis. Most often, those that develop the disease do so after consuming food contaminated with the bacteria. Often confused for ‘food poisoning’, symptoms can start suddenly and include:
- Severe headache
- Persistent fever
In extreme cases, these symptoms may lead to meningitis encephalitis (an infection of the brain) and/or septicemia (blood poisoning), both of which can result in death.
The mild form of foodborne listeriosis usually begins about 24 hours after eating contaminated food. For the more damaging form of the disease, the incubation period can take up to 90 days.
Pregnant women, newborn babies and the elderly are at the highest risk of serious illness, but as with most illnesses, people with weakened immune systems are at a higher risk than healthy adults. Fortunately, the disease can be effectively treated with antibiotics, but requires an early diagnosis for the best chance at success.
Minimize your chances of contracting listeriosis (as well as other foodborne illnesses) by following these steps:
- Read and follow all package labels and instructions on food preparation and storage.
- Thoroughly clean and sanitize all surfaces used during food handling and preparation, especially where raw meat is concerned.
- To avoid cross-contamination, clean all knives, cutting boards and utensils used with raw food before using them again.
- Thoroughly clean fruits and vegetables prior to consuming.
- Ensure your refrigerator is at an optimal temperature, is cleaned often and does not become a graveyard for past-due leftovers or spoiled products.