Foodborne Illness

This section will discuss foodborne illness – the symptoms, causes and how to prevent it.
  • Even food that looks, smells, and tastes good can make people sick. The food may contain bacteria, toxins or chemicals at levels which, if consumed, can lead to illness.
  • Bacteria is the most common cause of foodborne illness. Bacteria is present in most foods and will normally be harmless. However if bacteria are allowed to multiply to dangerous levels, people consuming the food may get sick. In some cases, people may even die.
  • The most common types of bacteria present in foods include:
    • Salmonella – this is normally associated with food such as eggs, milk, chicken, and meat products.
    • Bacillus cereus – this can often be found in vegetables, flour, custard, and cooked rice.
    • Campylobacter – this can be found in poultry, milk, and contaminated water, especially tank water.
    • Listeria – Listeria can be found in dairy products such as milk, cream, pate, seafood and vegetables.
  • It is important to remember that these bacteria are present throughout the environment and therefore appear naturally in foods.
  • It is necessary that all foods are prepared, processed, cooked, and stored, in a manner that does not allow for these bacteria to remain in the foods or to grow to levels that lead to foodborne illness.
Here we will discuss many ways in which food handling should be carried out so as to ensure contamination of food does not occur.
  • These include such measures as ensuring good personal hygiene of staff – food handlers should be wearing clean clothing, should wash their hands thoroughly prior to handling food, should not cough, sneeze or eat in or around food preparation areas, and should not be handling food if they are ill, or suspect they are ill themselves.
  • The premises and equipment should be kept clean and items sanitised where necessary.
  • Food should be stored and displayed at appropriate temperatures and appropriate processing and cooking procedures should be followed.
  • It is important to remember that many incidences of foodborne illness go unreported or undiagnosed. Onset of symptoms (that is the time between a person eating the contaminated food and them getting sick) can range from a few hours to ten days and therefore it can be difficult to pinpoint what caused the illness.
  • Symptoms can include: stomach pain, diarrhoea, vomiting, nausea, and fever, and some can lead to more serious illness such as meningitis and even death.
  • It is important therefore that food businesses take food safety and hygiene seriously and that documentation on procedures is kept so that in the incidence of a claim of foodborne illness by a customer, the food business can show that they are taking all practicable measures to ensure only safe and suitable food is produced at the premises.