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Health issues caused by consuming contaminated food are one of the biggest problems of the environmental safety sphere. A foodborne outbreak is determined as the case when two or more people are diagnosed with similar illness proved to be caused by food consumption (Friis, 2012, p. 279). Most people are aware of this problem due to the frequent cases of various media covering this topic. However, there is little understanding of the types of contaminants and the ways of their transmitting to people.
There are private and governmental institutions that collect data on separate illness cases and nationwide outbreaks associated with food consumption. They analyze trends and publish reports with findings and propositions on how to increase food safety. Recent research papers issued by those controlling agencies show varied results regarding the situation. There is a need to develop further strategies that will allow all members of food supply chains to decrease the number of foodborne illness cases.
As R. S. Friis mentions, foodborne illnesses can be acute or take a long-term character (2012, p. 279). This difference is explained by various contamination agents that appear to be the cause of a disease. The book offers the classification of those agents based on their physical, chemical, and biological nature. These include the groups of pathogenic microbes, chemical compounds, residues of medication, foreign objects, radioactive materials, packaging particles, and miscellaneous contaminants (Friis, 2012, p.282). Some of these pathogens reach food only at the final stage of preparation and serving, while others may be present in a specimen before it even grows.
While sources of most contaminant groups can be traced and eliminated on the spot, some of them require a detailed study and strategy for the reduction of incidents. Bacterial agents belong to one of those categories since they are adaptive to change and may be transmitted globally. The latter is especially troubling as bacteria brought from foreign countries may present many issues to the health state of the local population who has never faced it before.
Salmonella is one of the most widespread causes of foodborne infections. These are the “rod-shaped, motile, gram-negative, and non-spore-forming bacteria” (Friis, 2012, p. 283). There are numerous serotypes of this bacteria that cause salmonellosis, the symptoms of which resemble severe food poisoning, including vomiting, diarrhea, fever, and headache. People usually associate salmonellosis with the consumption of raw meat, fish, or eggs. However, since contaminated water and soil are one of the sources of Salmonella, fresh produce can also carry these bacteria. Studies suggest that several salmonellosis outbreaks came from melons, tomatoes, and several kinds of sprouts (Lynch, Tauxe, & Hedberg, 2009, p. 309). Fresh juice can also be contaminated with this bacterial agent. Some stamps of salmonella became resistant to treatment, which raises issues among healthcare professionals.
Another widespread contaminant is Escherichia coli that produce Shiga toxin, often abbreviated as STEC (Friis, 2012, p. 289). Although some types of E. coli reside in the human body without causing any adverse effect, STEC often causes severe illness symptoms that resemble salmonellosis. Unpasteurized dairy products, undercooked meat, fresh juice, lettuce, and other types of food are some of the E. coli sources (Friis, 2012, p. 291). Finally, Listeria monocytogenes is often reported among the sources of the greatest foodborne outbreaks (Robertson et al., 2016, p. 442). This is bacteria usually associated with animal farming, while it can also contaminate fresh produce that, for example, has been in contact with the sewage water. Septicemia, meningitis, and encephalitis are among the illnesses caused by Listeria monocytogenes (Friis, 2012, p. 494). These bacteria may also cause symptoms that resemble food poisoning.
Outbreak Reporting and Overview
The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention are the primary departments that analyze the threat posed by food contaminants (Friis, 2012, p. 280). However, they collect and analyze information that has been sent to them by other organizations. Another organization, FoodNet, which is the Foodborne Diseases Active Surveillance Network, contacts laboratories to collect information on this subject. Finally, the U. S. Department of Agriculture’s Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) also works with laboratories, hospitals, and other healthcare facilities to investigate the situation (Robertson et al., 2016, p. 442). Three reports issued under the supervision of these agencies were studied to understand the threat posed to the population by foodborne illnesses.
The data from the CDC for the period of 2010-2014 shows that there were 120 foodborne disease outbreaks that were spread nationwide (Crowe, Mahon, Vieira, & Gould, 2015, p. 1221). According to the article, nationwide cases were only 3 percent of the total number of foodborne disease outbreaks (Crowe et al., 2015, p. 1222). The larges numbers of cases were accounted for Salmonella, STEC, and Listeria monocytogenes contamination. Food, associated with outbreaks, included fruits, vegetable crops and seeds, beef, and sprouts.
The FSIS report for the period of 2007-2012 provides similar findings, with the mentioned three bacterial agents being the leading causes of foodborne illness outbreaks during this time (Robertson et al., 2016, p. 443). The total number of outbreaks reported to the Service was 292 cases, 163 of which were analyzed. Results show that 77 percent of outbreaks associated with FSIS-regulated products were linked to raw food (Robertson et al., 2016, p. 445). FSIS does not regulate some sectors, like fruit and vegetables, which results in its list of contamination sources.
However, the latest report based on the FoodNet’s data for the period of 2006-2017 has other proportions of bacterial agent causes of outbreaks. While Salmonella, E. coli, and Listeria monocytogenes are among the most numerous factors, the highest number of cases was associated with Campylobacter (Marder et al., 2018, p. 325). The difference in results may be caused by the most recent research methods that allow identifying the outbreak reasons more precisely. In general, trends show that outbreaks caused by E. coli decrease in number, while illness cases caused by Salmonella retain the same rate.
Issues with Farmer Markets
As it has been mentioned previously, E. coli is one of the bacterial agents that cause major foodborne disease outbreaks. Some of the studies suggest that globalization is one of the reasons for low food safety, as it is difficult to control the conditions of growth and transportation in other countries (Friis, 2012; Lynch et al., 2009). However, local producers also have issues, especially in the farmer market segment.
The study of farmer markets in Pennsylvania indicates that there is a high prevalence of E. coli and Listeria found in meat and leafy green produce (Scheinberg et al., 2017, p. 240). These results indicate that there can be poor sanitary practices associated with growing greens and animals, as well as preparing these types of food for selling, transportation, and display. The awareness about proper hygiene practices must be raised among farmers. Moreover, more advanced ways of food safety control in this sector must be developed.
The restaurant industry is a heavily regulated sector of public services. However, it also experiences issues with foodborne illness outbreaks associated with pathogenic bacteria. Studies regarding restaurants as sources of foodborne diseases mainly focus on two main factors, which are the safety of food components themselves and hygiene level during their storage and preparation. Results often show that violations of sanitary rules, as well as imported ingredients, correspond with illness outbreaks.
For example, the study of restaurants in Washington, DC claims that improper holding temperature of products, contaminated equipment, and poor personal hygiene are the primary causes of foodborne disease outbreaks in the area (Jemaneh, Minelli, Farinde, & Paluch, 2018, p. 16). Another research discusses problems with food safety among American restaurants with Asian cuisine, which were accounted for 1,79 percent of foodborne illness outbreaks during 1990-2008 (Matheus, Franco, Hsu, Marshall, & Simonne, 2016, p.110). Although the larger portion of all cases had the undetermined etiology, more than the third proved to be caused by microorganisms. For example, Salmonella was identified as the pathologic agent in 33 percent of bacterial contamination cases.
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Many people admit that attending restaurants is an important part of their lives (Matheus et al., 2016, p.109). It is crucial for this industry to ensure food safety at each stage of the supply chain. Even meals, which were cooked with safe ingredients, can pose a threat as studies claim that fruit flies can contaminate food with bacteria like E. coli (Ecolab Inc., 2018, para. 4). Shippers are now required to determine what needs to be done to keep food safe and how to prevent its distribution after suspecting spoilage (Sowinski, 2016, p.2). This means that suppliers are also responsible for food safety.
Foodborne illness outbreaks are a major threat to national health. Bacterial contamination is one of the most frequent causes of foodborne diseases, with Salmonella, STEC, and Listeria monocytogenes found in the prevailing number of cases. Most types of food can be contaminated with pathogenic bacterial agents. While it is difficult to control the agricultural practices abroad, local producers must follow sanitary regulations during all stages of the process.
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