Food Safety pt2 - toxic foods

I wanted to write a little more about food safety and bring a little more clarity to the topic. There are 2 types of foodborne illness: food intoxication and food infection.

Food intoxication:
This is when the food is contaminated by toxins (usually a byproduct of bacteria). Bacterial count is not necessarily important because it is the toxins that cause the illness; however, bacterial count is usually a contributor.

Food infection:
This is when one consumes a large quantity of bacteria or microorganisms. In this case it is the bacteria and microorganisms themselves that multiply in the digestive tract and cause the illness.

The toxins in food intoxication are heat resistant (they aren't living organisms that could be killed by heat but toxic compounds that remain). Improper handling of raw food could allow bacteria to multiply and produce toxins. The food could be fully cooked (or well done) to kill all the bacteria, but the toxins remain. In addition, there needs to be proper handling after cooking. Warm food could become toxic if held at a warm temperature too long. The food could be reheated to kill all the bacteria, but still is unsafe to eat.There needs to be correct handling in terms of time/temperature at every stage of food prep/service.

Another thing to watch for is that food toxins could be undetectable. There may not be a funny smell or discoloration. The general rule of thumb is to keep potentially hazardous food in the temperature danger zone for no more than 4 hours before it should be discarded. To err on the safe side: if it's been out too long, I wouldn't put too much faith in it. Toxic food produces some really nasty symptoms.

What do you need to do to ensure safety?
  1. Use separate tools for meat and veggies to prevent cross contamination
  2. Keep raw food refrigerated and out only when necessary to prevent bacterial growth
  3. Fully cook the food (rare or medium rare is safe in certain conditions)
  4. Refrigerate leftovers within 4 hours if possible.
  5. Another simple tip: wash your hands before touching food! This is one easy way to prevent illness and unfortunately is often neglected,


Ed said…
There are three types of food-borne illness,Foodborne Infection, Foodborne Intoxication as you mentioned and Toxin Mediated Infection, an example of which would be ecoli.
Mark B said…
The most common food-borne illness is norwalk virus, commonly known as stomach flu. It gets transferred to food when people prepare it with unwashed hands, so washing hands is the easiest and best way to avoid food poisoning.
tomkim said…
Mark, that's a great point! I'll add it ot my post. thanks

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