8 risks of eating raw food (and associated diseases) - medical - 2023



Eating raw food is a trend that is on the rise. And it is that at the gastronomic level some products, including those of animal origin, acquire a greater distinction if they are served without going through the “kitchen”.

But this increases the risk of suffering some food-borne illnesses that can become serious, and it is that if these products do not follow very exhaustive hygienic standards (even more than those that are intended for cooking), it is possible that in its surface or interior grow and microscopic pathogens reproduce.

When we boil, fry, bake or steam, high temperatures kill the vast majority of bacteria and viruses that, if they get into our digestive system, would cause us problems.

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By eating raw food, we are bypassing our main defense to reduce the risk of food poisoning. Therefore, in today's article, we will present the main diseases to which people who eat raw food that have not passed through the corresponding sanitary controls are exposed.

What do we understand by raw food?

By raw food we understand any edible product that has not undergone a thermal process in any of its stages of production, neither in industry nor in the home. There are many foods that are made to be eaten raw, because as a general rule, the less something is cooked, the more it will maintain its properties.

Therefore, foods such as fruits, some vegetables, nuts, etc., do not need to undergo any cooking since there is no risk that they are a source of pathogenic bacteria or viruses. However, there are other foods that, from their origins, have proven to be a source of disease transmission.

These products, which are usually those of animal origin, are prone to “deteriorate” and allow the growth of germs that can cause us potentially serious, even fatal pathologies. Therefore, humans discovered that subjecting them to high temperatures, in addition to obtaining interesting gastronomic properties, killed these harmful viruses and bacteria.

This is the reason why it is forbidden to market unpasteurized milk, since this is a process that is carried out at high temperatures to destroy the microorganisms that may be in the milk. Similarly, meat and any other product of animal origin is recommended to be well cooked to avoid the risk of food poisoning.

And it doesn't mean that eating raw food is a sentence of getting sick.. In fact, nutritionally it can be very interesting. What you have to do is make sure that what we buy complies with the necessary hygiene standards and that, later at home, we also avoid possible contamination with microorganisms. Because when we eat raw foods, we are more exposed to them.

How can the risk be reduced?

Obviously, each person is free to consume food as they want, so it is important to be clear about what strategies can - and should - be followed to prevent these raw products from causing health problems. It is true that the risk of poisoning is greater, but if you follow these tips, it can greatly decrease.

Before starting, however, it is important to remember that unpasteurized milk should not be taken under any circumstances and that raw meats, although they are not recommended in general, should not be consumed by children under 5 years of age, pregnant, or the elderly or immunosuppressed people. For the rest of foods, simply caution.

Raw fish has practically no health risks as long as it has been previously frozen, since the main pathogens, including parasites, are killed. And currently all the fish that are marketed go through this freezing, so there is nothing to worry about.

Except in extremely rare cases, the products sold in supermarkets are perfectly safe and should not cause us problems even if they are consumed raw. In the case of restaurants, it is important to observe if they seem to respect hygienic conditions and, in case things do not seem to work, avoid ordering raw food.

At home, it's simple: hygiene. Wash vegetables that are to be eaten raw well with water and even a drop of bleach, ensure that kitchen utensils are always clean, do not leave raw food on the counter, store products in the refrigerator, respect the expiration date, do not store raw and cooked products nearby, do not cough or sneeze near raw food ... And, of course, always wash your hands with soap and hot water, especially after using the bathroom or touching animals.

If these rules are followed, the risk of contracting diseases from eating raw food is very low, but we are also going to remember which are the main risks to which we are exposed to highlight the importance of applying these rules.

What are the dangers of eating raw food?

Here are some of the diseases that are most often linked to the consumption of raw food and that can be avoided by cooking the products properly.

Most are related to meat and other products of animal origin, although there are dangers with all those products that have not followed basic hygienic standards, either during production, distribution or preparation at home.

1. Gastroenteritis

It is one of the most common diseases in the world and is caused by different species of bacteria and viruses that are transmitted by contaminated food, especially if they have not been subjected to thermal processes.

The most common symptoms are diarrhea, vomiting, abdominal pain, chills, and fever. It does not usually bring too many problems and people tend to recover within a few days, although children, the elderly and the immunosuppressed are at risk of developing complications. In fact, in poor countries it is the leading cause of infant mortality.

2. Salmonellosis

Salmonellosis is a disease caused by a bacteria, “Salmonella,” which can be found in raw meats, poorly washed fruits and vegetables, undercooked eggs, and unpasteurized milk and dairy products.

It is more serious than a simple gastroenteritis and its symptoms are: high fever, severe diarrhea, recurrent vomiting, abdominal pain, headache, weakness and fatigue ... Anyway, unless you are part of the risk population, it usually resolve on its own after a week.

3. Listeriosis

Listeriosis is a disease caused by “Listeria monocytogenes”, a bacterium that occurs naturally in soils and wild animals, but can get into food if basic hygiene measures are not followed. And if the food is eaten raw, the risk of developing the pathology is high.

The symptoms are similar to those of gastroenteritis, but the problem here is that the bacteria are capable of, once in our intestines, moving to other organs. And it can cause meningitis, septicemia and other disorders that do put a person's life at risk, and can even cause abortions in pregnant women. Antibiotics, however, manage to kill the bacteria, although the person must be hospitalized.

4. Vibriosis

Vibriosis is a disease caused by "Vibrio parahaemolyticus", a bacterium that often causes problems in raw seafood. And is that the pathogen is found naturally in seawater, but mollusks such as oysters and mussels that filter this water can accumulate large amounts of this microorganism. If they are eaten raw, the risk exists.

It doesn't tend to be too serious, although it does cause uncomfortable symptoms: very watery diarrhea, abdominal cramps, nausea, vomiting, fever, and chills. The symptoms do not usually last more than 3 days and antibiotics are not usually prescribed unless the pathology is more serious than normal.

5. Campylobacteriosis

Campylobacteriosis is a bacterial disease caused by “Campylobacter”, a microorganism that often causes problems in chicken meat and other poultry eaten raw or undercooked, in addition to unpasteurized milk.

The most common symptoms are diarrhea (sometimes bloody), vomiting, cramps, fever, etc. The problem, and hence it is totally contraindicated to eat raw white meat, is that the bacteria can travel to the blood and cause bacteremia, a condition that does put a person's life at risk. Fortunately, antibiotics are usually effective.

6. Hemolytic Uremic Syndrome

Hemolytic uremic syndrome is a disease caused by "Escherichia coli", a bacterium that, although it is part of our intestinal microbiota, depending on the variant, can behave as a pathogen. And is that some of them can grow in raw food, especially meat, and produce toxins, a serious situation.

Hemolytic uremic syndrome is a serious and life-threatening disease (especially in children under 5 years of age) since, in addition to the typical gastrointestinal symptoms, it causes changes in mood, kidney failure, anemia and even damage to the central nervous system and the heart.

7. Toxoplasmosis

Toxoplasmosis is a disease caused by “Toxoplasma gondii”, a parasite that can be found in lamb or pork meat previously infected by the pathogen and that, if it is not eliminated by cooking, can reach our intestines and cause problems.

There are not always symptoms, although when they appear they are the following: fever, muscle pain, loss of vision, sore throat ... The treatment consists of the administration of drugs, which usually kill the parasite.

8. Trichinosis

Trichinosis is a disease caused by "Trichinella spiralis", a parasite that can form cysts in pig meat, although it is also present in that of horses, bears, rats ... Given the exhaustive controls, it is no longer a problem in countries developed, although there are still outbreaks due to consumption of pork infected with cysts in which the slaughter has occurred without the supervision of a veterinarian.

It is a serious disease in which, although the first symptoms are typical gastrointestinal, the parasite can infect the brain, heart or lungs, thus endangering the life of the person.

Bibliographic references

  • World Health Organization. (2008) "Foodborne Disease Outbreaks: Guidelines for Investigation and Control". QUIEN.
  • American College of Cardiology. (2011) "Your health: How to prevent food poisoning." Cardio Smart.
  • National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases. (2014) "Food poisoning". NIH.