Foodborne illness, commonly called
"food poisoning," is caused by bacteria, toxins, viruses,
parasites, and prions. Roughly 7 million people die of food
poisoning each year, with about 10 times as many suffering from a
non-fatal version. The two most common factors leading to cases of
bacterial foodborne illness are cross-contamination of ready-to-eat
food from other uncooked foods and improper temperature control.
Less commonly, acute adverse reactions can also occur if chemical
contamination of food occurs, for example from improper storage, or
use of non-food grade soaps and disinfectants.
Food can also be adulterated by a
very wide range of articles (known as 'foreign bodies') during
farming, manufacture, cooking, packaging, distribution or sale.
These foreign bodies can include pests or their droppings, hairs,
cigarette butts, wood chips, and all manner of other contaminants.
It is possible for certain types of food to become contaminated if
stored or presented in an unsafe container, such as a ceramic pot
with lead-based glaze.
Food poisoning has been recognized as
a disease of man since as early as Hippocrates. The sale of rancid,
contaminated or adulterated food was commonplace until introduction
of hygiene, refrigeration, and vermin controls in the 19th century.
Discovery of techniques for killing bacteria using heat and other
microbiological studies by scientists such as Louis Pasteur
contributed to the modern sanitation standards that are ubiquitous
in developed nations today. This was further underpinned by the work
of Justus von Liebig, which led to the development of modern food
storage and food preservation methods.
In more recent years, a greater
understanding of the causes of food-borne illnesses has led to the
development of more systematic approaches such as the Hazard
Analysis and Critical Control Points (HACCP), which can identify and
eliminate many risks.
Some people have allergies or
sensitivities to foods which are not problematic to most people.
This occurs when a person's immune system mistakes a certain food
protein for a harmful foreign agent and attacks it. About 2% of
adults and 8% of children have a food allergy. The amount of the
food substance required to provoke a reaction in a particularly
susceptible individual can be quite small. In some instances, traces
of food in the air, too minute to be perceived through smell, have
been known to provoke lethal reactions in extremely sensitive
Common food allergens are gluten,
corn, shellfish (mollusks), peanuts, and soy. Allergens frequently
produce symptoms such as diarrhea, rashes, bloating, vomiting, and
regurgitation. The digestive complaints usually develop within half
an hour of ingesting the allergen.
Rarely, food allergies can lead to a
medical emergency, such as anaphylactic shock, hypotension (low
blood pressure), and loss of consciousness. An allergen associated
with this type of reaction is peanut, although latex products can
induce similar reactions. Initial treatment is with epinephrine
(adrenaline), often carried by known patients in the form of an Epi-pen.
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