Food Borne Illnesses and Food Contamination


Food is a basic requirement for humans, or any living organism to survive. Food as defined by is “any substance eaten to provide nutritional support for the body (“Food”)”. Food nourishes the body by providing the energy needed for metabolism and for the everyday activities. It is also used for building and repairing body tissues and regulating body processes.

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Food needs to be eaten and digested to be broken down into the substances that the body can use. Since food directly enters into our body, foods contaminated with other organisms or substances can cause serious harm. It could be a source of many forms of diseases and illnesses.

Contamination of food is a global concern especially in the food industry. Many diseases are transmitted and passed through food. There have been many cases of food poisoning across the world despite of the developments in our food processing and technology.

Food borne diseases, from the name itself, are illnesses that people get from food. These foods become harmful to humans because of the presence of contaminants. These contaminants that cause illnesses include chemical, microorganisms, or other substances that we can get from food. It is important to have knowledge about the causes, the types, and the prevention of these food borne diseases.

This paper aims to discuss food-borne diseases and food contamination. Specifically it aims to explain the causes of these diseases and the organisms and substances responsible.  Also it cites the most common food-borne diseases and the new studies. It also relates food-borne diseases and contamination to nutrition and health. Lastly, the paper recommends ways to prevent food contamination and occurrence of food-borne diseases.


According to Alan Taege, MD, “food-borne disease is a pervasive problem caused by consumption of contaminated food and drink (Taege)”. A food contaminant, on the other hand,  “is any biological or chemical agent, foreign matter, or other substance unintentionally added to food that may compromise food safety or suitability (“Food Contamination”)”.

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), food borne diseases are a widespread and is an increasing public health problem, not only in developing countries but also in developed countries (“Food Safety and Foodborne Diseases”). WHO also cited examples that show the extent of  food borne diseases:

“The global incidence of foodborne disease is difficult to estimate, but it has been reported that in 2005 alone 1.8 million people died from diarrhoeal diseases. A great proportion of these cases can be attributed to contamination of food and drinking water. Additionally, diarrhea is a major cause of malnutrition in infants and young children.

In industrialized countries, the percentage of the population suffering from foodborne diseases each year has been reported to be up to 30%. In the United States of America (USA), for example, around 76 million cases of foodborne diseases, resulting in 325,000 hospitalizations and 5,000 deaths, are estimated to occur each year.

While less well documented, developing countries bear the brunt of the problem due to the presence of a wide range of foodborne diseases, including those caused by parasites. The high prevalence of diarrhoeal diseases in many developing countries suggests major underlying food safety problems.

While most foodborne diseases are sporadic and often not reported, foodborne disease outbreaks may take on massive proportions. For example, in 1994, an outbreak of salmonellosis due to contaminated ice cream occurred in the USA, affecting an estimated 224,000 persons. In 1988, an outbreak of hepatitis A, resulting from the consumption of contaminated clams, affected some 300,000 individuals in China  (“Food Safety and Foodborne Diseases”)“.

The diseases that can be obtained from food are varied. Some diseases have symptoms as common as diarrhea, stomach pains, vomiting, and fever. Some may lead to chronic diseases like Hepatitis A that is caused by the Hepatitis A virus that we get from food through the fecal-oral route(Fiore). Other kinds may even lead to death, like in some types food poisoning.

Food Poisoning

Food poisoning can be classified into food intoxication and food infection. Food intoxication is caused by ingesting the toxin in the food. Certain microorganisms produce chemicals that are harmful to humans when ingested. Under favorable conditions, these microorganisms can produce chemicals or toxins in the food that human eat. Examples of microorganisms that are responsible for producing toxins are Staphylococcus aureus and Clostridium botulinum.

S. aureus, a microorganism that is normally found in the natural microflaura of the skin, is transferred to the food due to unsanitary handling and preparation. C. botulinum is a rod-shaped bacterium that is produces a deadly toxin. These microorganisms are inhabitants of the soil and they come in contact with food through dust, soil and even water (“Food”). Botulism, the disease caused by C. botulinum, is commonly observed in bulged cans and fermented food.

On the other hand, food poisoning is due to the ingestion of the live microorganisms present in food. These microorganisms continue to grow inside the body and that leads to the occurrence of illness of the host.


“Salmonella  is a Gram-negative facultative rod-shaped bacterium in the same proteobacterial family as Escherichia coli, the family Enterobacteriaceae, trivially known as “enteric” bacteria (“Salmonella and Salmonellosis”)”. Salmonella thrives inside the intestines of humans and other animals. Salmonellosis, more commonly known as typhoid fever, is a food borne disease that occurs when bacteria invades the bloodstream (“Salmonella and Salmonellosis”).

Salmonella typhi is the causative agent for typhoid fever. It is a common disease in under developed countries and causes serious health problems and it is fatal when not treated immediately.  The main source of this disease is contaminated water. The symptoms of the disease include vomiting, diarrhea, chills, and fever (Reynolds; Taege)

Another microorganism responsible for food infection is Escherichia coli. This bacterium is a normal inhabitant of the intestines of humans. They are helpful in our body by restraining the growth of harmful bacteria and by synthesizing vitamins (“Escherichia Coli O157:H7”). But certain strains of E. coli like E. coli O157:H7 is harmful to our body. This variety produces toxins harmful to the intestine once inside the body.

This bacteria causes the acute Hemorrhagic colitis (“Escherichia Coli O157:H7”). Its symptoms include abdominal pain, vomiting, fever, and bloody diarrhea. The symptoms usually are more severe in children and old people. This bacteria usually enters our body by eating undercooked meats, drinking contaminated water and milk that is not pasteurized (“E. Coli Infection”).

In 2006, there was an outbreak of E. coli O157:H7 that spread through contaminated spinach (“Nationwide E.Coli O157:H7 Outbreak: Question and Answer”).  Investigations led to cattle ranches and the sources of the bacteria were cattle feces. The spread of this disease through leafy vegetables has become a big problem. Animal manures are known to be used as organic fertilizers. The US Food and Drug Administration has shown serious concerns on the recurring outbreaks food borne diseases associated with fresh leafy vegetables. This lead for the review of the FDA’s guidance for minimizing microbial food safety hazards (“Nationwide E.Coli O157:H7 Outbreak: Question and Answer”).

Emerging food borne diseases

The recent concerns in food and nutrition is the emergence of new food borne diseases and recently it became more widespread, according to World Health Organization (“Foodborne Diseases, Emerging”). Salmonella is the most frequent cause of  these diseases, the reason behind lies in the large utilization of poultry and egg.

Cholera was considered to be a disease of the past, but in 1991, it again emerged for the first time for almost a century in South American continents (“Foodborne Diseases, Emerging”). The larges outbreak of the strain E. coli O127:H7 has been on Japan in 1996. The Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy, more commonly  known as the Mad Cow disease was discovered in 1985. It is a deadly and infectious disease we get from eating contaminated cattle.

Food borne diseases are rising because of the microbial adaptation and evolution. New strains of microorganisms becomes more fatal and are harder to kill. These microorganisms become more resistant to antibiotics and are not killed during food processing. Another reason is the exportation of foods around the world. Food borne diseases can spread faster and reach many places. Another reason is the greater problem in pollution. Many of our natural water forms and water systems are polluted and contaminated with many disease-causing microorganisms.


Humans have come a long way in food processing. Many methods have been developed to reduce, inactive, or kill these microorganisms. Food industries have made a lot of improvement to make their food products sanitary and free from contaminants. Better methods of cooking, preserving, packaging and storage of food have been developed to keep contaminants away from food.

Efforts to prevent food borne diseases were not wasted. The occurrences of these diseases have also decreased. However, with all these improvements, occurrences of food borne diseases still happen. Foods are still contaminated and people still get sick.


Food is vital for human survival. We consume food everyday in order for our body to do its basic metabolic processes and have the energy to do our daily activities. Everyday we eat, and everyday we face the risk of acquiring food borne diseases.

Food borne diseases can be prevented by keeping the contaminants away from food. Proper food processing methods should be followed as well as proper sanitation in food preparation and service.

To prevent food borne diseases people cannot fully rely to the improved food technology. Each individual is responsible for keeping his or her food free from contaminants. Each person should take caution on the food he or she eats. Before putting something inside the mouth, one should be sure where, when, and how the food was prepared.

The utensils used for cooking and eating are usually the carriers of the microorganisms that contaminate our food. Humans, usually the cook and the food handlers, can also contaminate our food. The cleanliness of these things and proper sanitation practices very important. Foods should also be cooked properly to kill most of the microorganisms. Foods eaten raw should be free from contaminants. This could be achieved by washing the foods first and storing correctly.

It is important to have a strong immune system to protect us from food borne-diseases. Good immune system also helps in fighting against these microorganisms. Proper nutrition and exercise is the key into achieving a healthy body and strong immune system. Strict laws for food sanitation and processes should also be strictly implemented. The government should be able to supervise the food production and storage. Laws for exportation of food are very important especially for the raw foods like meat, fruits, vegetables, and live animals. The government should also reevaluate their laws concerning food, food security, and food processing.


  1. “E. Coli Infection”. April 23, 2007. <>.
  2. “Escherichia Coli O157:H7”.  2006. April 22, 2007. <>.
  3. Fiore, Anthony E. “Hepatitis a Transmitted by Food.” 2004.
  4. “Food”. April 22, 2007. <>.
  5. “Food Contamination”. April 22, 2007. <>.
  6. “Food Safety and Foodborne Diseases.” 2007.
  7. “Foodborne Diseases, Emerging.” 2002.
  8. “Nationwide E.Coli O157:H7 Outbreak: Question and Answer.” Ed. U.S. Food and Drug Administration, 2006.
  9. Reynolds, E., Shuler, G., Hurst W., Tybor, P.T. “Preventing Food Poisoning and Infection.” 2003.

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Food Borne Illnesses and Food Contamination. (2016, Dec 12). Retrieved from