Bacteria are small, single-celled microbes that come in many shapes and are capable of reproducing themselves. Typical cell shapes include spherical (cocci), rod-shaped (bacilli), and comma-shaped (spirillar). These shapes can be seen under the microscope when the bacteria are stained in the laboratory.
Whether or not bacterial cells stain Gram-positive (retaining a crystal violet color) or Gram-negative (with a pinkish hue, losing the violet color) also aids in identifying the bacteria that are present and what treatments to administer. The flagella, a hair-like tail that is responsible for bacterial movement, also helps classify and identify bacteria.
Much of modern foodborne microbiology is devoted to keeping pathogenic bacteria out of food products and preventing their growth if they are present.
Illnesses from Salmonella and Campylobacter, which are commonly found on poultry, account for 70 percent of the foodborne illnesses tracked by the CDC.
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Researchers have identified more than 250 foodborne diseases caused by a variety of bacteria, viruses, and parasites. Harmful toxins and chemicals can also cause food poisoning. The top 4 bacteria causing food poisoning in the United States are:
These don’t cause as many illnesses, but when they do they’re more likely to lead to hospitalization:
Bacteria grow fastest in the range of 40°F – 140°F, the “Danger Zone.” A refrigerator set at 40°F or below will protect most foods. Your fridge is one of the very best weapons you’ve got in the fight against foodborne illness. When bacteria get the nutrients, moisture, and warmer temperature it needs, rapid bacteria growth occurs and can reach levels that may cause illness. Refrigeration slows bacterial growth.
Just because your food looks done doesn’t mean it is done. The only way to know if your meat, poultry, and egg dishes are safely cooked is to use a food thermometer. The safe internal temperature for all ground meat and meat mixtures (meatloaf, hamburgers, etc.) is 160°F; for fresh, raw, whole cuts of red meat (beef, veal, chops, and lamb), it’s 145°F. Cook all poultry (including ground) to a safe internal temperature of 165°F. Not cooking your food to safe temperatures means bacteria may still be surviving inside and cause illness.
When it comes to food poisoning caused by harmful bacteria lurking in food, people often hear about the awful symptoms like vomiting, nausea, and diarrhea that can come with it.
But many people reach out to Stop Foodborne Illness to ask us something they don’t know:
How, exactly, does bacteria get in the food we eat?
Food you’ve left out overnight may look and smell OK, but it’s NOT. Foods teeming with harmful bacteria in them may not look, smell, or even taste different.
Pathogens today are more virulent than 50-75 years ago. So, even if your mother or grandmother used to leave food out overnight and eat it the next day without any worry, we’re in a different and more dangerous place in time when it comes to deadly bugs that lurk in our food.
Hot foods must be kept hot and cold foods must be kept cold. There’s only a TWO HOUR limit for leaving perishable food out at room temperature. After that, the food must be refrigerated or put in the freezer.
After food has been left out past the two-hour mark, you can’t just heat the heck out of it and make it safe to eat. Bacteria that can survive the heat has already had the chance to proliferate. For example, Clostridium botulinum, which produces the toxin that causes botulism. A single spore of it can turn into 1,000 bacteria in a few hours. Reheating food that’s been contaminated with Clostridium botulinum doesn’t kill the active bacteria or toxins.
Freezing to 0°F inactivates any microbes — bacteria, yeasts and molds — present in food. Once thawed, however, these microbes can again become active, multiplying under the right conditions to levels that can lead to foodborne illness.
They will then grow at about the same rate as microorganisms on fresh food, so you must handle thawed items as you would any perishable food.
The length of time a bacterial infection will remain in your system depends on the pathogen. Typically, after symptom onset, pathogenic foodborne bacteria can remain in humans anywhere from 24 hours to 7 days.
After recovering from a foodborne illness, there are a few ways one can restore healthy gut bacteria. Start off right by consuming probiotics and fermented foods, eating foods rich in fiber, and avoiding processed foods. Exercising regularly, and establishing a good sleep schedule are also helpful methods for restoring gut your health.
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Information provided in this section is in the public domain and is provided by US Food and Drug Administration (FDA); US Department of Agriculture (USDA), Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS); the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC); National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases (NIDDKD);
and Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA).
This information is not meant to be used for self-diagnosis or as a substitute for consultation with a healthcare provider.
If you have any questions about the bacteria described in this section or think that you may have a bacterial infection, please consult a healthcare provider.