Common Causes of Food Poisoning
Food tends to turn bad if it is not well-preserved. The common cause of food spoilage is decomposition of food by the action of the enzymes present in it or by the action of some external agents like fungi or bacteria. Consumption of spoilt food in this manner can cause a person to fall ill. This condition is called food poisoning. Food poisoning is not a disease, but it creates a condition in the body which usually makes a person indisposed or seriously sick. It may affect some vital organs like the brain, liver, kidney, etc.
When food remains exposed at room temperature for quite some time, it may get contaminated by fungi or bacteria. These organisms produce compounds (toxins) which have harmful effects in the body. When a considerable amount of toxins is ingested, it is likely to make a man sick.
Bacteria and spores of fungi and their products (toxins) can enter the body by other means as well. If the utensils are not properly washed, the hands are not clean, the place where food is cooked and kept is dirty, there are insects, flies and cockroaches around the food — there is every possibility of food being contaminated by micro-organisms. Once the food is infested, these micro-organisms grow rapidly. They not only spoil and reduce the nutritive value of the food, but make it inedible and dangerous to consume.
Rats, mice, cockroaches and flies can contaminate food by dropping their excreta on it. Their limbs and mouth parts have lots of microbes. Flies may carry germs from decaying wastes, excreta, etc. on their feet and other body parts. When they sit on our food, these germs get transferred to it.
Poor hygiene may also lead to food poisoning. For instance, there are bacteria (Staphylococci) which can cause many forms of infection. The bacteria may stick to the unwashed fingers and get transferred to the food. The bacteria produce a heat-resistant toxin which remains even in the cooked food, even though the bacteria get killed.
Sick farm animals may carry another dangerous bacterium, Salmonella, which may be present in milk, eggs and meat. When these are taken in raw form, Salmonella enter the intestine where the bacteria grow and multiply. Their presence in the intestine causes nausea, vomiting, diarrhea and abdominal pain.
Canned food may also be a source of food poisoning. There is a type of bacterium called Clostridium botulinum which may be found in tinned food. This bacterium grows anaerobically (without oxygen) and produces toxins. When such canned food is taken, the toxins cause food poisoning known as botulism. Botulism is not common but very dangerous leading to serious health complications and even death in some cases.