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The Causes of Food-Borne Illnesses Case Study

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Updated: May 1st, 2022


Food-borne diseases are at times referred to as food poisoning. These are illnesses that result from the consumption of food that is contaminated. It may contain pathogenic bacteria, parasites, or viruses that have contaminated the food (McKellar et al., 1994).

These diseases may also be caused when one consumes some natural or chemical toxins. Such toxins include those found in poisonous mushrooms. Chilled, ready-to-eat meals are believed to be of the highest risk (Michino and Otsuki, 2000). Reasons include fabrication or distribution of food with no thermal sanitation procedures. These are required to treat them. This paper will discuss the causes of food-borne illnesses associated with chilled, ready-to-eat food. It will also discuss the factors affecting them and the prevention and control measures to be put in place.

The diseases

The causes of these illnesses are diverse. Examples include improper handling of the food materials, contamination during the preparation phase, and improper food storage. Various toxins present in the environment can also cause these diseases. Aside from the microbial pathogens and natural toxins that cause the diseases, there are artificial chemicals that may cause food-borne diseases. These include medicines and pesticides, among various other chemicals.

Food-borne microbial pathogens that cause diseases include bacteria and viruses. Many of the food-borne diseases that are well known are caused by bacteria. The major bacteria (pathogens) that are known to cause such diseases include Escherichia coli, Salmonella, Listeria monocytogenes, Shigella, Staphylococcal enteritis, Staphylococcus aureus, Vibrio cholera, and Campylobacter jejuni. Certain records have been kept concerning the prevalence and frequency of foodborne diseases caused by these bacteria. In a study conducted in the U.K., Campylobacter jejuni was the bacteria that caused most of the food-borne diseases.

It was responsible for at least 77.3% of all foodborne diseases. This means that it is the most prevalent. Salmonella came second in the rating. It caused 20.9% of the food-borne diseases in the U.K. Escherichia coli was responsible for 1.4% of all foodborne diseases. The remaining 0.1% of cases of food-borne diseases were caused by the other contaminants (McKellar et al., 1994).

A long time ago, people used to believe that bacteria caused most food-borne diseases (Michino and Otsuki, 2000). This was due to the lack of the proper technologies that were required to test for norovirus. Surveillance of the specific agents was also not being conducted. Normally, infections from bacteria take time to be effective. This is because of the nature of bacteria. It needs more time to multiply. The symptoms from bacterial infections may take between 12 hours and three days to be seen. Examples of diseases include periodontitis, Salmonella typhimurium, hemolytic-uremic syndrome, and many other diseases.

Viruses also cause many foodborne diseases in developed countries. It has been estimated that viruses cause one-third of all such diseases. In the U.S., for example, more than fifty percent of all food-borne diseases are caused by viruses and noroviruses. In 2004, viral infections were responsible for 57% of all foodborne diseases. The incubation period for such diseases is between one and three days. The viruses cause diseases that are self-limited even in people who may be healthy.

Ensuring the safety of food is vital for any catering unit. This is because it is responsible for serving several meals per day. Outbreaks of food-borne diseases normally occur in mass catering units. It is specifically notable in the nursery and elementary institutions.

Young children have been determined to be the most susceptible individuals when it comes to food-borne diseases. Machine and Otsuki investigated in Japan and concluded that 533 cases of food-borne diseases had been reported in schools (Lee, 2001). This included cases between 1981 and 1995. More than 100,000 people were affected. The causative factors for some of the diseases were identified. These causes included contamination of raw materials, storage of the food for longer periods than required, contamination by workers who were infected, and cross-contamination. The major factors that contributed included the abuse of temperatures in fridges during storage and abuse of the length of time for refrigeration, among various other reasons.

Storage duration and storage temperatures during refrigeration are vital since it determines whether the infectious bacteria will have an opportunity to multiply and poison the food. Proper refrigeration of ready-to-eat foods is vital since such foods have been determined to have the highest potential risk factor. They are at high risk of developing microbial hazards and food-borne diseases.

Food-borne diseases show some clinical features that enable doctors and physicians to diagnose and determine the type of illness. This puts the doctor in a better position to provide the required treatment. These symptoms vary greatly in their severity. Several diagnoses can be done but the most common of them is gastroenteritis. However, some food-borne illnesses do not present signs or symptoms. Some of the symptoms that may be observed in the clinic include fatigue, fever, dark urine, mild to severe diarrhea, abdominal cramping or pain, nausea, jaundice (the eyes or skin turn yellow), headache, convulsions, vomiting, and loss of balance.

Pathogenic microorganisms use various ways to cause illnesses in humans (Donnenberg, 2000). Humans, in this case, are referred to as the hosts. They produce a variety of molecules that attach to the host cells to facilitate different responses from the host. When pathogenic microorganisms enter an organism, they move into the bloodstream. In the blood, the microorganisms find perfect conditions that allow for their growth. They reproduce to great numbers within hours or a few days. Some bacteria may cause inflammation only by the fact that they are present. However, some do not. Some bacteria cause diseases due to toxicity.

Most of what some of the bacteria produce is toxic. Bacteria may not require entering the cell to reproduce. The viruses, on the other hand, need to get into the cells. Other pathogenic microorganisms cause diseases through their adhesive nature. They stick on the walls of particular cells in the body. However, its effects on the cells are still under debate among scientists. As they stick on the walls, they move along with the blood and spread throughout the body. This causes signs such as muscle pain, headaches, rashes, and various other symptoms.

Prevention and control of disease outbreaks

High levels of hygiene must be observed before, during, and after the food has been prepared. When these precautions have been observed, there would be reduced chances for the occurrence of food-borne diseases. It has been observed that regular and thorough washing of the hands is one of the most effective preventive measures for such diseases.

Prevention is mainly the responsibility of the state since it should provide strict rules concerning hygiene. It should also put in place public services consisting of trained personnel to survey the animal products as they pass through the food chain. This includes its movement from the farm to the point where it is sold as a final product. Inspections should be made in the industries where the raw material is transformed into ready-to-eat products.

Several aspects should be adhered to put in place preventive measures to curb food-borne diseases. One of the aspects includes traceability of the product. This is to means that the ready product in the marketplace should be able to be traced back to its source. The original ingredients should be able to be determined. The time and location of the processing of the raw material should also be able to be determined. This would make it easier to know the origin of the food-borne disease and possibly arrest it. This explains why some products are usually removed from sale after such inspections and investigations have been made.

Other control and prevention measures that have already been attempted include the enforcement of hygiene procedures. These include the ‘cold chain’ and HACCP. Certain laws can also be enforced to decrease some of the causes of food-borne diseases since all of them are preventable. In the U.S., for example, there was an introduction of phage therapy as a measure to reduce the incidences of infections. This was in 2006 and it involved the spraying of meat that had viruses. These viruses could infect bacteria and cause infections. However, this later raised concerns among the consumers of the products. This is because there was no particular labeling that was done on the sprayed meat. This way, the consumer would not know which product has been treated using the spray.

It is not up to the government only to try to reduce the incidences of infections because charity begins at home. Prevention and control of food-borne diseases should also be practiced at home. This can be ensured by maintaining good food safety standards. Many forms of bacterial poisoning can be arrested even if the food was already contaminated. This could be done in various ways. The first one is cooking it sufficiently. This will help kill the disease-causing pathogens. The second way is through refrigeration. Refrigeration may stall the reproduction of microorganisms due to low temperatures. They require optimum temperatures to reproduce successfully. Therefore, chilling the food in the correct way (proper temperature and duration) is vital. This is what is referred to as heat treatment (Daud et al., 1978). However, toxins cannot be destroyed through this procedure.


Food-borne diseases are usually a result of mishandling of food materials. This may be in the storage and handling of the food. Proper hygiene should be observed to reduce the cases of such illnesses. Bacteria have been determined to be the most common causative agents of such diseases. The pathogenic organisms have various ways of causing illnesses to the host. With this understanding, the medical practitioners can determine the specific type of agent and provide proper treatment. However, prevention is better than treatment. Therefore, hygiene should be ensured to reduce occurrences. Proper refrigeration procedures should also be observed and the common causes of food-borne diseases can be finally arrested.


Daud HB, McMeekin, TA & Olley J 1978, ‘Temperature function integration and the development and metabolism of poultry spoilage bacteria’, Applied Environmental Microbiology, vol. 36, pp. 650-654.

Donnenberg, MS 2000, ‘Pathogenic strategies of enteric bacteria’, Nature, vol. 406, pp. 768–74.

Lee, WC, Lee, MJ, Kim, JS & Park, SY 2001, ‘Foodborne illness outbreaks in Korea and Japan studied retrospectively’, J. Food Prot., vol. 64, pp. 899-902.

McKellar, RC, Moir, R & Kalab, M 1994, ‘Factors influencing the survival and growth of Listeria monocytogenes on the surface of Canadian retail wieners’, J. Food Prot., vol. 57, pp. 387-392.

Michino, H & Otsuki, K 2000, ‘Risk factors in causing outbreaks of food-borne illness originating in schoollunch facilities in Japan’, J. Vet. Med. Sci., vol. 62, pp. 557-560.

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