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foodborne illness

What people think of as “stomach flu” is typically food poisoning. Hand-washing is critical after handling raw meat and fish. For example, the skin of nine out of ten chickens has been found to be contaminated with fecal matter. C. diff, the superbug associated with pseudomembraneous colitis and toxic megacolon, was found in 42% of U.S. retail meat in one study. The superbug MRSA also affects the U.S. meat supply (see also here). Nearly half of retail meat for sale in the United States was found contaminated with staph in general. Pork tapeworms infecting one’s brain is the leading cause of adult-onset epilepsy.

Extra-intestinal E. coli, found in almost half of all retail poultry samples tested, may cause urinary tract infections. Viruses from poultry may even be associated with neurological diseases, and bacteria from poultry have been associated with paralysis (see also here). The hepatitis E virus is carried in the livers and bloodstreams of pigs and is transmitted through feces and by eating undercooked pork.

There are a number of heat-stable toxins in fish that can cause food poisoning (some of which may even be sexually transmitted). We can get cholera from raw oysters; tapeworms, brainworms, and eyeworms from sushi, and a rare form of amnesia. Even placing children in the basket of a shopping cart with raw meat could pose a danger.

Several brands of bottled water have shown bacterial contamination. Salmonella has been found in alfalfa sprouts; broccoli sprouts are safer. Eggs pose the greatest Salmonella risk, though, sickening more than 100,000 Americans every year. Sea vegetables are an excellent source of iodine, but eating kelp (and sausages containing thyroid glands) can lead to iodine-induced thyrotoxicosis.

See also the related blog posts: E. coli O145 Ban Opposed by Meat Industry, Cantaloupe and Listeria: an estimated 85% of cases are from deli meats, not melons

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Watch videos about foodborne illness

  • Amnesic Seafood Poisoning
    Amnesic Seafood Poisoning
    There's a rare toxin called domoic acid that can turn up in tuna and other seafood and cause anterograde amnesia, the loss of short-term memory popularized in the movie Memento.
  • Meat-Borne Infection Risk from Shopping Carts
    Meat-Borne Infection Risk from Shopping Carts
    Exposure to meat packaging in the supermarket may lead to food poisoning in children placed in shopping carts.
  • Food Poisoning Bacteria Cross-Contamination
    Food Poisoning Bacteria Cross-Contamination
    The food-poisoning fecal bacteria found in 70% of U.S. retail poultry is destroyed by proper cooking, but contamination of the kitchen environment may place consumers at risk.
  • Poultry and Paralysis
    Poultry and Paralysis
    A neuropathic strain of the fecal bacteria Campylobacter found in poultry can trigger Guillain-Barré syndrome, a rapid and life-threatening paralysis.
  • Poultry Exposure and Neurological Disease
    Poultry Exposure and Neurological Disease
    Poultry workers exhibit an excess of a wide range of diseases, from thyroid conditions to schizophrenia and autoimmune neurological disorders such as myasthenia gravis. This may be due to exposure to...
  • Bacon and Botulism
    Bacon and Botulism
    The nitrite preservatives in processed meats such as bologna, bacon, ham, and hot dogs form carcinogenic nitrosamines but also reduce the growth of botulism bacteria, forcing regulators to strike a...
  • Is Bacon Good or Is Spinach Bad?
    Is Bacon Good or Is Spinach Bad?
    If the nitrates in vegetables such as greens are health-promoting because they can be turned into nitrites and then nitric oxide inside our bodies, what about the nitrites added to cured meats such...
  • MRSA in U.S. Retail Meat
    MRSA in U.S. Retail Meat
    More than a thousand retail meat samples have been tested for Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) contamination in North America.
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