There are two different types of bacteria involved with food:
- Food spoilage bacteria
- Food poisoning (pathogenic) bacteria
Food spoilage bacteria
- Easily detectable, as these make the food go off.
- We are able to see it,
- Taste it
- More commonly are able to smell it.
These bacteria act as a warning sign to say, do not eat this!
Food poisoning bacteria (pathogens)
Tiny amounts of pathogenic bacteria are able to make you very sick. These are the bacteria we are mostly concerned about, as you cannot see, taste or smell these bacteria. Within this broad category, there are bacteria of each class, that were are generally concerned with in the kitchen environment. This applies to both the home kitchen and a production kitchen (restaurant, hotel, food service).These are the most common food poisoning bacteria, but are also what we call indicator organisms.
Escherichia coli (gram-negative) (E.coli)
E.coli originates from our gut, as well as other mammals such as cows. E.coli is a gram-negative bacteria that is naturally occurring in the environment, in the soil or our gut etc. E.coli is not per say, a pathogen (a disease causing bacteria). E.coli does exist ‘peacefully’ with humans as is important to our internal flora (the make-up of various bacteria in our gut that allows us to consume our food, and keeps the bad pathogens at bay). However, there are strains of E.coli that are dangerous such as E.coli 0157:H7. But in general E.coli is a bacterium that should be avoided.
Because E.coli mostly occurs in our gut, raw meats etc, it becomes an indicator of unhygienic practices that may have taken place. Two perfect examples of this is, when we don’t wash our hands after going to the toilet and not washing our hands after handling raw meats. In fact, these two examples are two of the most common causes of food poisoning.
Staphylococcus aureus (gram-positive) S.aureus
S.aureus is a bacteria that occurs naturally on the skin and nasal passages of humans. Usually this bacteria is harmless in small numbers but can cause skin infections if the numbers get too high (bacterial load). In food, S.aureus is particularly concerning because it produces a heat-stable toxin which can cause severe food poisoning. (Heat-stable meaning, that the toxin can survive cooking temperatures).
I am sure that you can already see why S.aureus can be an indicator organism?
Because S.aureus occurs in the nasal passages and on the skin, those that are natural carriers (10 – 15% of the world\’s population), anti-biotic treatment is required to keep this bacteria at below infection levels. Of course hand washing and preventing touching of the nose are keys ways to prevent contamination in food.
Finding these bacteria in food and/or on hands of food handlers tells us that there has been some break in the food safety pillars, and the potential for causing food poisoning increases dramatically.
Check out the ebook on how to prevent food poisoning by using the food safety pillars.
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