Research into food poisoning

This section looks at the latest developments in regards to food poisoning which include:

  • Greater understanding of the causes of food poisoning
  • New strategy to tackle campylobacter bacteria

Food poisoning is an illness which most of us have probably experienced at some point in our lives. It is also one of the most unpleasant and miserable experiences as well!

So, can anything be done to prevent food poisoning or is it with us indefinitely?

Food poisoning occurs due to a lack of awareness about food safety: this translates into a lack of care and attention when preparing, cooking and storing food. This also includes an ignorance of the importance of good hygiene in the kitchen which must be a priority.

Food poisoning is caused by any of the following:

  • Bacteria
  • Viruses
  • Parasites
  • Toxins

If we can learn more about these causes of food poisoning we may be able to devise new forms of treatment. We may also find ways to deal with the unpredictability of food poisoning.

Greater understanding of the causes of food poisoning

This refers to the difficulty in determining when someone is likely to become ill following consumption of contaminated food. We know there is an incubation period between initial exposure to the bacteria (or whatever has caused the food poisoning) and the appearance of the symptoms.

But, these bacteria have developed a variety of ways to avoid detection which means that it is almost impossible to predict if someone is going to develop food poisoning or not.

This is what makes food poisoning an unpredictable illness.

A research group based at University College, Cork in Ireland have found that bacteria have developed some clever ways of avoiding detection (and annihilation) in order to survive and multiply.

When bacteria multiply the end result is usually food poisoning.

Bacteria such as e coli or listeria cause food poisoning but are often destroyed by stomach acid once they enter the digestive system. If they do survive then they enter the lining of the intestine where they release toxins which attack cells which results in this infection.

But this research group has found that listeria bacteria have developed ways of manipulating certain ingredients within certain foods, e.g. soft cheese which neutralises the effects of stomach acid. This enables them to survive and to go on to cause listeriosis – a serious type of food poisoning especially for pregnant women.

An improvement in food processing and storage has also contributed to the survival of these bacteria.

(Source: AlphaGalileo: independent source of research news: 6 Sept 2010)

New strategy to tackle campylobacter bacteria

A new strategy for investigating the campylobacter bacteria was released in July this year. It involves main public funding bodies of food research in the UK (e.g. The Food Standards Agency) in a combined approach to developing a greater understanding of this bacteria and finding ways of dealing with it.

The campylobacter bacteria are responsible for more than 300,000 cases of food poisoning in the UK.

This co-ordinated approach will look at the actual bacteria itself; its structure, behaviour and effect on its host, e.g. human. It will also examine existing farming and food procedures with the aim of intervening before the bacteria have chance to enter the human food chain.

This strategy will look at the current number of campylobacter cases and ways of reducing this now and in the future.

(Source: Institute of Food Science and Technology: 22 July 2010)

Food Poisoning Guide

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