Anyone who has had food poisoning will tell you that it is a miserable experience which they never want to repeat. Even cases too mild to require hospitalization cause their victims to be forever cautious and leery about the food they eat. According to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), there are about 76 million cases of food borne illness in the U.S. each year. While most are relatively mild, about 325,000 of these cases require hospitalization and 5,000 of them result in death.
There are three basic types of food contamination – physical, chemical, and biological. All three types of contamination can cause serious illness, injury, or death. Most often, serious illness and death are the result of biological contamination.
Biological contamination occurs when biological contaminants are transferred to food from a human, animal, preparation surfaces, or other food. It can also be the result of failure to fully cook food or spoilage. There are several types of biological contaminants including bacteria, viruses, parasite, yeasts, and molds.
Bacteria are the most common cause of food poisoning. Cleanliness in all stages of food delivery, proper refrigeration, and adequate cooking temperatures are the most effective preventatives against bacteria- related food poisoning.
Salmonella is best known for its association with undercooked chicken. It is not unusual for salmonella to be present in raw meat, and the bacteria are killed by cooking temperatures over 150 degrees. Proper refrigeration can control salmonella growth. Salmonella poisoning results from undercooking and from cross contamination of cooked food by contact with raw foods or contaminated surfaces, utensils, packaging, or hands.
E coli comes from feces. Recent outbreaks have raised awareness and fear of E coli. There are many strains of the bacteria, not all of them cause serious illness, but E coli poisoning can be deadly. Once believed to be caused only by undercooked meat, fresh produce has become a common culprit. Food can be contaminated with E coli by coming into contact with raw meats or contaminated surfaces, utensils, packaging, or hands. Produce can be contaminated in the field by contaminated irrigation water, wild and domestic animals, or improper fertilization methods.
Staphylococcus aureus is a common bacteria found in the skin, nose, and respiratory passages of about half of all people. The bacteria itself can be destroyed by cooking, but as it grows it produces a toxin which is not destroyed by heat and causes the type of food poisoning often contracted by eating mayonnaise-based foods such as cole slaw and potato salad. Adequate hand washing and refrigeration are the best preventative measures.
Botulism is incredibly rare, but it kills about 30% of its victims. It is normally found in canned foods, usually foods canned at home. A bulging can or bad odor can mean that botulism is present, but sometimes it shows no signs. Boiling for 10 minutes will destroy botulism in food.
Food can be contaminated with viruses, even though a virus will not actually grow on the food. Poor hygiene, typically failure to wash hands before preparing food, is normally the means of contamination.
Hepatitis A is a virus which can cause liver damage. Outbreaks are often associated with eating food or drinking beverages from a restaurant in which a worker is infected with the virus. There is a preventative shot, and restaurants can require workers to be immunized.
Norwalk virus and some similar viruses can be transmitted when an infected person prepares salad, sandwiches, or other foods. The illness typically lasts about two days and causes vomiting and sometimes diarrhea.
Parasites are often present in raw meat. The most well-known is trichinosis in pork. Parasites are killed by proper cooking temperatures, but when they are not killed can cause serious illness and sometimes death.
Molds and Yeasts
Molds are usually a product of food spoilage and can be avoided by proper food storage and the disposal of expired or spoiled foods. Yeasts are used in bread, wine, beer, and other foods. Yeasts are normally destroyed by heat during the cooking process.
Physical contamination occurs when foreign objects such as glass shards, pebbles, hair, or dirt get into food. Hand washing, hair nets, and other cleanliness practices can prevent physical contamination. Injuries, such as a shipped or broken tooth, are a more common result than illness, when objects are found in food.
Chemical contamination comes in three forms:
- Naturally occurring toxins such as those often found in seafood including ciguatoxin, scombrotoxin, and toxic substances absorbed from contaminated sea water including mercury.
- Food additives which provoke a severe allergic reaction in some people including monosodium glutamate and sulfides.
- Cleaning chemicals and pesticides which get into or onto food by improper storage or inadequate rinsing.
Most chemical contaminants cannot be destroyed by cooking. Food poisoning due to chemical contamination can range from mild, temporary symptoms to violent, excruciatingly painful symptoms and death.
Food contamination is preventable. Contamination can be the result of negligence on the part of food growers, manufacturers, transporters, packaging or processing plants, restaurants, cafeterias, or retailers such as grocery stores. Contamination can occur during the production, growing, harvesting, processing, packaging, transporting, storage, or preparation of foods and beverages.
If you or a loved one has been injured or killed by contaminated food, pleasecontact one of our experienced personal injury attorneys today. Depending on the severity of the injury and how the food was contaminated, you may have a valid claim for damages.