The top 9 foodborne illnesses - medical - 2023



550 million people get sick every year from eating spoiled food. In other words, foodborne diseases affect almost 1 in 10 people in the world and, although they are more common in poor countries, anyone is susceptible to them.

Food contamination is caused by the proliferation of pathogenic microorganisms in them, which use food as a vehicle for transmission to our intestines, where they generally cause diarrheal diseases.

Despite the fact that on many occasions they cause us minor disorders that resolve on their own after a few days of discomfort, some foodborne diseases can be very serious, even being fatal.

In fact, are responsible for more than 400,000 deaths each year, so they are a public health alarm. Many of them are preventable, and the best way to become aware of the importance of complying with hygienic measures is to know them. This is what we will do in today's article.

What is a foodborne disease (FAD)?

A foodborne disease (FAD) is any disorder caused by the intake of food contaminated by pathogenic microorganisms, which grow in the food and, if they reach sufficient population values ​​to cause harm to us and we eat it, they will begin to cause damage.

ATS are caused by many different species of bacteria, viruses, parasites, toxins produced by microorganisms and even by chemical products. Some of them are almost exclusive to poor countries, although many affect the whole world.

Pathogens reach food through many different routes and can “land” on the product in any of its production phases, from contamination of the raw material to bad practices when it reaches our home, through production and distribution, among others.

Some pathogens come from fecal contamination (organisms present in feces), others from the soil itself, some from the bodily fluids of infected people ... Therefore, it is important that the entire food production chain is perfectly controlled, as it is very easy for pathogens to grow rapidly if there is contamination.

In case of contamination, one of the biggest problems is that many times we cannot see that this product has pathogens. There are no signs of deterioration in appearance, taste or smell.

The moment we eat a contaminated product, we are introducing pathogens into our body and, if the immune system is not able to eliminate them, it is possible that they colonize the organs and tissues and cause us some of the following diseases.

What are the most frequent ETAs?

There are many different pathogens that infect us through food. And it is important to bear in mind that the majority of problems occur in the home, because in the industry everything is very controlled and it is difficult for contaminated products to enter the market.

The majority of these diseases, then, are caused by improperly storing the products, we cook them poorly, we do not comply with hygienic measures ... ATS are preventable. Here are some of the most common.

1. Gastroenteritis

It is the most frequent ETA. Many species of bacteria and viruses can cause this disorder., which is also known as "diarrheal disease." Billions of people suffer from it every year. In fact, it is one of the most common diseases in all countries of the world.

Gastroenteritis consists of an inflammation of the inner membrane of the intestine due to its colonization by different pathogens, which reach the digestive system through food.

The most common symptoms of gastroenteritis are diarrhea, vomiting, abdominal pain, fever, and chills. Although its severity varies depending on the species of pathogen that causes it and the state of health of the person, it does not usually bring too many problems.

Most people recover without the need for treatment. The problem comes with children, the elderly and the immunosuppressed, all of whom can have problems if dehydration caused by diarrhea and vomiting is not resolved. In poor countries, in fact, it is the leading cause of infant mortality.

2. Salmonellosis

Salmonellosis is a disease caused by the bacteria "Salmonella", a bacterium that is naturally present in the intestine of mammals, but some strains can behave as pathogens.

Its arrival in the body is generally through undercooked (or directly raw) meats, poorly washed fruits and vegetables, raw eggs and unpasteurized dairy. For this reason, it is very important to cook food well (with high temperatures we kill the bacteria), monitor personal hygiene and store food in the fridge.

The symptoms of salmonellosis include high fever, severe diarrhea, frequent vomiting, abdominal pain, headache, weakness ... It is more serious than gastroenteritis, but it also usually disappears on its own within a week.

3. Listeriosis

Listeriosis is a disease caused by "Listeria monocytogenes", a pathogen that is present in water, soil and wild animals, and can pass into food if hygienic measures are not respected during production. It causes one of the most severe ETAs.

Although it usually causes gastrointestinal symptoms similar to salmonellosis, the problem with listeriosis is that the pathogen does not always stay in the intestines, but can travel to other organs. Thus, listeriosis can cause meningitis, septicemia or other disorders that can endanger the life of the person and even cause abortions in pregnant women, as the bacteria cross the placenta and attack the fetus.

It is essential to apply treatment, which consists of antibiotics that kill the bacteria. The person will have to be hospitalized and kept under observation.

4. Brucellosis

Brucellosis is a disease caused by the bacterium “Brucella”, which It usually affects us when we consume raw unpasteurized milk or cheeses made from the milk of infected sheep or goats by the bacteria. It is, therefore, a bacterium that is transmitted from animals to humans using dairy products as a transmission vehicle.

The symptoms of brucellosis can appear within a few days or after months of contagion, something rare in ATS. Symptoms include fever, weakness and fatigue, joint pain, muscle and back pain, headache, loss of appetite, etc.

This disease is usually treated effectively with antibiotics, although treatment can last several weeks as it is difficult to prevent the infection from recurring. The best prevention is not to eat raw dairy products.

5. Hepatitis A

Hepatitis A is a disease caused by a virus that reaches food through fecal contamination, that is, by remains of feces from an infected person. Although viruses cannot reproduce in food, a few virus particles are enough to make us develop the disease.

Once we have consumed the contaminated product, the virus travels to the liver and begins to damage it. Symptoms appear a few weeks after infection when this organ is impaired and include: the skin takes on a yellowish color, nausea and vomiting, loss of appetite, low fever, weakness and fatigue, abdominal pain, dark-colored urine, itching, etc.

Despite being a viral disease, antibiotics do not work, most cases are resolved without major complications before six months.

6. Toxoplasmosis

Toxoplasmosis is a disease caused by the parasite "Toxoplasma gondii", which can affect us by eating raw meat of lambs or pigs contaminated by the parasite. Therefore, it is a disease that is transmitted from animals.

Although it does not always give rise to symptoms, when they appear they are the following: fever, muscle pain, sore throat, fever, loss of vision, swollen lymph nodes ...

Treatment consists of the administration of drugs that kill the parasite, which is found in the intestines. The best prevention is to always cook lamb and pork meats well, as high temperatures kill the parasite.

7. Anisakiasis

Anisakiasis is a disease caused by the consumption of the parasite "Anisakis", which is present in many fish. For this reason, it is mandatory that the fish that are sold are previously frozen. However, it is possible that cases of this disease occur.

This parasite can not only cause the disease itself, it often causes allergies.. The most common symptoms are stomach pain, vomiting, diarrhea or constipation and in the most severe cases: intestinal obstruction. In the case of allergies, it can cause from simple skin eruptions to anaphylactic shock, which is fatal.

Medications are not effective in killing the parasite, so surgical intervention is most likely necessary to kill it. Anyway, by freezing the fish and then cooking it well, we kill the parasite in complete safety.

8. Campylobacteriosis

Campylobacteriosis is a very common ATE caused by “Campylobacter,” a bacteria commonly found in contaminated chicken and other poultry and unpasteurized milk.

The most common gastrointestinal symptoms are vomiting, diarrhea (sometimes bloody), cramps, fever… Although it is not common, the bacteria can travel to the blood and cause bacteremia, a situation that endangers the life of the person.

Although antibiotic treatments are effective, it is best to prevent infection. That is why it is so important not to eat raw chicken meat and to avoid consuming unpasteurized milk or cheeses.

9. Botulism

Botulism is a rare but extremely serious disease. It is an ETA caused by the toxins that “Clostridium botulinum” produces in food, a bacterium that is usually found in the ground and that tends to cause problems, especially in home preserves prepared incorrectly.

The symptoms are due to the neurological damage caused by the toxin, as it begins to kill the cells of the body and blurred vision appears, difficulty speaking, difficulty swallowing, muscle pain, weakness ... If not treated, it is very likely to be fatal .

The person will require immediate hospitalization and will be treated with antitoxins. Given its severity, it is important to remember that those preserves in which there are many bubbles or the containers are swollen must be avoided. If they are prepared at home, it is essential to sterilize all containers and utensils and try to acidify the product that we are going to pack.

Bibliographic references

  • World Health Organization. (2008) "Foodborne Disease Outbreaks: Guidelines for Investigation and Control". QUIEN.
  • Adley, C., Ryan, M.P. (2016) "The Nature and Extent of Foodborne Disease". Antimicrobial Food Packaging.
  • Yeni, F., Acar, S., Alpas, H., Soyer, Y. (2016) “Most Common Foodborne Pathogens and Mycotoxins on Fresh Produce: A Review of Recent Outbreaks”. Critical reviews in food science and nutrition.