Microbial Pathogens

Depending upon the microorganisms present in the product, microbial spoilage certainly may be a potential health hazard. The microorganisms listed below are a potential health hazard in meats and meat products:

a. Salmonella Species. Salmonellosis is a food-borne illness caused by any one of the more than 1200 species of Salmonella. Fairly large numbers of about one million living bacteria must be consumed to be an infective dose for a young and healthy person. The US Food and Drug Administration considers 15 to 20 Salmonella cells as potentially infective for humans. (It depends upon the age and health of the host and strain differences among the members of the genus.) The greatest sources of potential danger are fresh meats and meat products that have become recontaminated after processing. Ground beef and fresh pork sausage are frequently contaminated by this procedure. Note that proper cooking will kill the majority of all Salmonella species.

b. Clostridium perfringens. This food poisoning organism is a normal inhabitant of the intestinal tract of man and animals and may be found in soils, dust, water, and foods. The majority of food-borne illnesses caused by Cl. perfringens occurs in institutions (such as hotels, school cafeterias, and university dining rooms) and at dinners and picnics where large numbers are in attendance. The foods involved are almost always meat and poultry products which have been cooked and left unrefrigerated at warm temperatures for several hours. The food appears normal in appearance, taste, and smell, but very large numbers of organisms may be present.

c. Clostridium botulinum. The most serious but fortunately the rarest type of food poisoning is botulism. Botulism is caused by the extremely potent neurotoxin produced by the growth of Clostridium botulinum. The organism is widely distributed through the soil and may be only rarely present in meat products. There is a low reported incidence of all clostridial spores in meats. Most of the foods involved in the US have been improperly home-canned vegetables. However, a 1963 outbreak, arising from improper commercial processing of liver paste, illustrates the possibility of this type of food poisoning taking place in meat products.

d. Staphylococcus aureus. There is a toxicogenic type of food poisoning caused by the growth of S. aureus. The staphylococcal enterotoxin responsible for the food poisoning is very resistant to heat and is much more heat resistant than the organism. This organism is widely distributed in nature. It has been isolated from the noses of approximately 50 percent of normally healthy individuals. It frequently infects cuts, burns, abrasions, and hair follicles. Thus, any meat product that is touched by human hands stands a reasonable chance of being inoculated with staphylococci. The foods most commonly involved in this foodborne illness are poultry products and ham.

e. Escherichia coli 0157:H7. There is a toxicogenic type of diarrhea caused by E. coli 0157:H7. It is sometimes called "hemorrhagic colitis" and is a more severe form of diarrhea than the more common "traveler's disease." The diarrhea is initially watery but becomes bloody. It can lead to life-threatening conditions for the very young and, in the elderly, to a condition with a 50 percent mortality rate. The food most commonly involved in this illness is undercooked or raw ground meat.

f. Other Microorganisms. Occasionally, there have been other bacteria implicated in food poisoning outbreaks besides the four types just discussed. These include Streptococcus faecalis, Bacillus cereus, Proteus species, Escherichia coli, and Brucella species.

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