Foodborne Diseases: Causes, Types, Detection, & More


Food poisoning, or foodborne diseases, are caused by eating food or water contaminated by bacteria, viruses, and parasites—or their toxins—and can happen at any point during processing or production. Both fresh and prepared foods can harbor harmful bacteria.

An estimated 48 million Americans, or one in six, get sick from food poisoning each year!

Bacteria and viruses are the most common cause of food poisoning. (1) which includes several foodborne diseases. Examples of microorganisms that cause food poisoning are the salmonella bacteria and campylobacter. In addition, viruses like Noroviruses (NoV, SRSV, NLVs)  and Rotavirus can also cause food poisoning. Food safety is important, since one gets food poisoning when one ingests any food containing bacterial toxins, usually referred to as getting intoxicated. Lastly, food poisoning can also take place when bacteria grow in someone’s guts, therefore, producing toxins. The presence of bacterial toxins is determined by conducting microbial toxin testing in a food microbiology laboratory.

Foodborne pathogens cause acute and chronic health outcomes of very different durations, severity and mortality, resulting in high costs and burdens to society. The issues of food safety and food poisoning are being increasingly emphasized. Food poisoning can become dangerous if it leads to severe dehydration or other complications. The following symptoms may suggest that an adult or child has a severe form of food poisoning, dehydration or other complications, or a serious health problem other than food poisoning. (2)

  • change in mental state, such as irritability, lack of energy, or confusion
  • high fever
  • vomiting often
  • six or more loose stools in a single day
  • diarrhea that continues for more than 3 days
  • nervous system symptoms
  • severe pain in the abdomen or rectum
  • stools that are black and tarry or contain blood or pus
  • symptoms of dehydration or other complications
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Many people are infected by foodborne diseases annually, which has become an issue of great concern, especially to the World Health Organization. Food contamination leads to the death of healthy people. Some foods are known to be the leading carriers of bacterial pathogens. Foods such as eggs, poultry, and animal products usually contain different types of pathogens. Thoroughly cook poultry and meat. You can kill bacteria by cooking poultry and meat to a safe internal temperature. (3)

Types of Bacterial Toxins found in Food

Poor personal hygiene, improper cleaning of storage and preparation areas and unclean utensils cause contamination of raw and cooked foods. Mishandling of raw and cooked foods allows bacteria to grow. The temperature range in which most bacteria grow is between 40 degrees F and 140 degrees F. Raw and cooked foods should not be kept in this danger zone any longer than absolutely necessary. Undercooking or improper processing of home-canned foods can cause very serious food poisoning. (4)

Bacterial toxins have adverse health effects on their host. They originate from proteins are can be classified as endotoxins or exotoxins. Some of the types of toxins include

  • Enterotoxins
  • Cytoskeletal altering toxin
  • Cytotoxin
  • Neurotoxins

How Does Microbial Intoxication Occur

When one eats, contamination by microorganisms comes into contact with surfaces, through the air, your hands, utensils, and by eating raw and unprocessed food products. Water is also a significant source of microbial contamination since we use water for various things, and it is a requirement for all the members of a food chain. Therefore, reducing food poisoning from these sources involves ensuring that you are keen on the water source and the methods used to handle the food you eat.

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Methods of Detection

The methods used for microbial testing in food involve culturing the microorganisms in food. However, the methods used to detect microbes in food substances are very time-consuming and are very laborious. Rapid detection method has also been developed to replace the conventional way and help overcome the challenges when using traditional testing methods. The advantages of using the quick detection methods include time specificity, labor-saving, specificity, and sensitivity. These methods help to detect any microbes in food substances before they are distributed for consumption by people. the methods can be broadly classified into

  1. Nucleic based methods
  2. Biosensors based methods
  3. Immunological-based methods.

To prevent Foodborne Diseases at home:

  • Wash your hands, utensils and food surfaces often.
  • Keep raw foods separate from ready-to-eat foods.
  • Cook foods to a safe temperature.Cook ground beef to 160 F (71.1 C); steaks, roasts and chops, such as lamb, pork and veal, to at least 145 F (62.8 C). Cook chicken and turkey to 165 F (73.9 C). Make sure fish and shellfish are cooked thoroughly.
  • Refrigerate or freeze perishable foods promptly
  • Defrost food safely.
  • Throw it out when in doubt.

Food poisoning is especially serious and potentially life-threatening for young children, pregnant women and their fetuses, older adults, and people with weakened immune systems.


Food is a critical element in our lives. Because of this, all food products must be tested and confirmed not to contain any disease-causing AGENTS. Quality checks and safety control should be done in real-time at every critical stage during food processing. Detection of pathogens, microbial contaminants, and bacteria helps reduce food spoilage rates and ensure that the food supplied to consumers is safe. Food spoilage is usually due to food contaminants, is very wasteful, and leads to many losses. The cases of foodborne pathogens are a significant concern globally hence the need to develop control measures.

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(1) Food Poisoning
(2) Symptoms & Causes of Food Poisoning
(3) Foods That Can Cause Food Poisonin
(4) Food Technology & Processing Bacterial Food Poisoning


Andrew Ellis

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