Microbial Pathogens

Depending upon the microorganisms present in the product, microbial spoilage certainly may be a potential health hazard.

a. Toxicogenic Microorganisms. The microorganisms listed below are a health hazard in waterfoods:

(1) Vibrio parahaemolyticus. These halophilic (salt-loving) bacteria produce a food-poisoning disorder in man. The disorder is a typical gastroenteritis, with diarrhea as the main symptom. Foods that have been incriminated in outbreaks in the US include steamed crabs, crab salad (made from canned crab meat), raw crab, processed lobster, broiled shrimp, roasted oysters, and raw oysters. Outbreaks have been caused by raw products that were inadequately refrigerated and cooked foods that were inadequately heated followed by inadequate refrigeration. In some outbreaks, there was cross-contamination between cooked and raw products.

(2) Clostridium botulinum, Type E. This organism is sometimes called the fish botulism organism. Under suitable conditions, the organism will grow and produce a toxin. The toxin is extremely lethal and may cause death if ingested. The toxin is heat sensitive and will normally be destroyed by proper cooking. The organism can grow in improperly processed canned fish, in vacuum-packaged products, and in some smoked products.

b. Factors in Maintaining the Wholesomeness of Waterfoods. Fresh waterfoods in general owe their freedom from food poisoning risk to three factors. They are:

(1) The absence of most food poisoning bacteria in the natural flora (in contradistinction to fowl, in which Salmonella organisms occur naturally).

(2) The normal practice of holding fish products at low temperatures.

(3) The controlling influence of the normal and putrefactive spoilage flora on stored fish.

c. Growth of Spoilage Flora. Food poisoning organisms will not, in general, grow significantly at low temperatures (below 50°F; 10°C), but the normal flora, since it is primarily psychrophilic in nature, will grow quite actively. In situations where the temperature is high enough to permit growth of dangerous organisms, the natural flora will, in most cases, grow very much faster so that the potential pathogens are swamped and eventually die out. There may even be a positively lethal effect on such pathogens from the competitive growth of the spoilage flora.

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