Foodborne Diseases

All through history, human beings no doubt were affected by a great variety of foodborne diseases through consumption of water and food. No one knows for certain the number of cases of foodborne intoxications and infections occurring annually in the world. In the United States the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported that between 1988 and 1992 a total of 2423 outbreaks of foodborne diseases with 77,373 cases of illness. Among outbreaks for which the etiology is known, bacterial pathogens caused 79% of the outbreaks and 90% of the cases. Since many outbreaks and cases are not reported, the estimation of foodborne cases is between 6 and 33 million cases per year and from 525 to 9000 deaths. The total cost of productivity losses from a few major pathogens ranges from $5 to $6 billion per year. Class 1 recalls of food products for life-threatening bacteria increased from 79 recalls in 1988 to 378 recalls in 1995. In countries with poor sanitation, one can only surmise that the number of foodborne disease cases is much higher. There is a heightened awareness of the role of foodborne diseases by consumers in the United States due to some sensational outbreaks of foodborne diseases affecting a large number of people and the deaths of children after the consumption of undercooked hamburger or contaminated cheeses. As a result, the government has implemented greater monitoring programs and Hazard Analysis Critical Control Point (HACCP) procedures in the food industry to attempt to curtail the outbreaks and protect the safety of consumers. Consumers are much more aware of the great potential for large-scale foodborne outbreaks and demand a safer food supply. At the same time consumers are also demanding more fresh foods, minimally processed food, and organic foods where control of foodborne pathogens are more difficult. There is also a drastic demographic change in the society where more and more people live longer and thus have lower resistance to diseases in general, and more people are at risk due to immunocompromised diseases and conditions that make them more susceptible to foodborne diseases. Food distribution systems also have been greatly improved, and thus production of food in one location can be transported to hundreds and thousands of miles in a short time. When a problem occurs, the amount of food involved can be astronomical, such as a case of recalling 25 million pounds of ground beef due to one contamination source. The company involved is no longer in existence as a major player in food supply. Another important development is international trade. Vast amounts of food are regularly shipped from one country to another with minimal monitoring of the microbial safety of the food involved. To complicate matters further, there are actually now microorganisms that are emerging or reemerging in the food supply and make tracking and controlling of these organisms more difficult. Fortunately, with new developments in microbial detection methods and systems these microorganisms are being detected more frequently with better accuracy and rate (see the article Rapid methods of microbial analysis). Also there are better and more efficient intervention strategies and methods in food processing to control unwanted microorganisms (see the articles Food fermentation and Microbiology of foods). Thus food microbiologists, food scientists, epidemiologists, medical personnel, public health workers, and consumer educators are charged with the responsibility of studying the occurrence, enumeration, isolation, detection, characterization, prevention, reporting, education about, and control of foodborne microorganisms in and from food, water, and the environment nationally and internationally.

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