Stop bugging me
/ Viruses / Who Gets It
/ Eating Meat / Chicken
& Egg / Salmonella / Campylobacter
/ E. coli / Clostridium
perfingens / Listeria / Botulism
/ Vibro vulnificus bacteria / Bugs
& Drugs / Prevention or Poisoning /
Cooking / Protection
you eat to live, or live to eat, what you eat can determine how or even
if you live.
Foods can nourish
us or kill us, if they are poisoned. And with an alarming increase in
frequency, food poisoning is on the rise in the United States and worldwide.
Foods are poisoned by microscopic germs that get into them: viruses, bacteria,
parasites, and even worms (which can grow large enough to see with the
naked eye). Sometimes, it is the chemicals produced by these germs which
cause us harm. In the following pages, you will learn about the major
causes of food poisoning, what happens when you are poisoned, and the
steps you can take to protect yourself and your family.
Almost all food poisoning
today originates from animal agriculture and foods. Even the relatively
few recent outbreaks of food poisoning derived from various fruits or
vegetables have been traced to contamination and runoff from animal manure.
The danger has been worsened by intensive factory farming methods used
in animal agriculture. Thus, the simplest, most effective step you can
take to protect yourself, and reduce the problem in society as a whole,
is to avoid eating or serving animal products.
Modern life in the
United States has many advantages. We have the benefit of technology making
the most difficult tasks quick and easy. In one shopping trip we can buy
enough foods for a month before the expiration date gets further and further
away. Ready-made meals are becoming a part of everyday life, people eat
out on a regular basis and take out and fast foods are readily available.
However there is a price to pay for such "luxuries", and I don't
just mean money. Food produced on a big scale leads to food poisoning
on a big scale as there are many opportunities for bacterial and other
infections. Food processing plants centralize the manufacture of meals
so that one infected ingredient can spread to many products. What is food
You know what happens
when you eat something that disagrees with you? Well, food poisoning is
more than a disagreement. It can feel like a full out battle between your
body and the food you have eaten. Between 12 and 24 hours after eating
the contaminated food you feel abdominal pain which is quite mild at first
but it becomes stronger and stronger. The pain can be excruciating and
may lead to explosive diarrhea. Your temperature may rise as high as 102ºF/39ºC.
Vomiting may follow and dehydration (sunken eyes, a dry mouth and a rising
pulse rate) may result. Usually the illness lasts for five to ten days,
with a further one to two weeks before you feel well again. The loss of
salt and water from the body can lead to heart attacks and strokes. Food
poisoning occurs as a result of eating food that is contaminated by metal,
chemicals or micro-organisms, such as bacteria and viruses.
Bacteria are the main cause of food poisoning. They are micro-organisms
that exist everywhere; in the air we breathe, in the water we drink and
in the food we eat. Some bacteria live on our skin, in fact there are
on average one million per square inch. There are also bacteria which
live in our guts protecting us against infection. Too many bacteria in
our system can lead to illness and, because they can reproduce at a phenomenal
rate, it is easy for them to get out of control. If bacteria are allowed
to incubate in the foods we eat then problems will ensue. Sometimes people
are not poisoned by the bugs themselves, but by the chemicals which they
release into food.
Virus is the term applied to a group of infective agents. Viruses are
smaller and simpler than bacteria and cannot reproduce unless they are
inside a host cell. Some viruses infect cells and destroy them and some
co-exist with their host. The viruses that infect bacteria and destroy
them are called bacteriophages and they are among the most complex viral
particles known. They can cause infection by killing off healthy bacteria
or by causing toxic substances to be released into cells during the virus
The following table shows us that eating animal products is a big risk
in terms of food poisoning and is making over a million people ill - some
very seriously - every year. Literature reports of the yearly incidence
of foodborne illness range from 6.5 to 81 million people affected (1).
Those most prone to food poisoning are the elderly, pregnant women and
children under 1 year old, but anyone can get food poisoning. Ninety five
percent of all food poisoning cases are caused by eating animal products.
Five percent are from plant foods however much of this is from contamination
by animal manure or from animal products. A diet free of meat, fish, milk
and eggs is by far the safest, and one that I highly recommend.
does eating meat and animal products increase your chances of infection?
Food poisoning is
becoming bigger, more complex and harder to control. Meat is a main culprit
because bugs love it! Bacteria can multiply extremely rapidly given the
opportunity, and meat, cheese, eggs and milk all provide the ideal environment
for bacterial growth. From cradle to grave, or should I say from birth
to plate, food poisoning bugs have six chances to infect meat:
- The conditions
in which the animal lives:
Like us, animals
are at their healthiest when they are happy. Those that are placed under
stress are more susceptible to infection and illness. As farming has
become more and more intensive, livestock are primarily selected for
growth rather than disease resistance. Factory farming is at the root
of the problem of food poisoning. Thousands of animals squeezed into
cramped, dirty and unnatural habitats leads to problems. The main aim
of intensive or factory farming is to have maximum output with minimum
input or basically to make a lot of money. It is well known that when
people are forced to live in camps, slums and other overcrowded and
unsanitary places infection is inevitable.
involves crowding as many animals as possible into a limited space
- making infection unavoidable. Bacteria and viruses thrive in this
environment and can infect large numbers of animals within a very
short time. Also, poor ventilation in buildings means that airborne
bacteria spread easily.
means that every waking hour of the animal is manipulated to ensure
a rapid and high yield. This is a strain on the animals involved and
has its consequences.
E. coli O157 inhabits
cattle in two forms. In its normal state in their gut, it is comparatively
harmless. But when the animal is under pressure, like when cattle
are subjected to the stress of being herded through the mass production
process of a large modern industrial slaughterhouse, the bacterium
breaks out into the bloodstream. This induces diarrhea and the potential
for spreading the lethal infection becomes enormously greater (2).
Add to this the safety problems which are increased because of a lack
of testing, lack of controls, and lack of care at each stage of the
food chain, and you have a recipe for disaster.
- The food that
cows were fed the brains of other cows and sheep which led to a fatal
disease - BSE or mad cow disease. After years of government denial,
it was finally acknowledged in 1996 that this disease can pass to people
via infected meat, causing a lethal brain infection. This shows the
dangers of forcing herbivores to eat the remains of other animals -
a practice that happens in the US.
In intensive farming,
the emphasis is placed on doing whatever it takes to lower production
costs. This has led to even feeding animals the manure which they
and other animals eliminate! The factories simply fill the feed troughs
with manure, by itself or mixed with litter, and coat it with molasses
or the like. This way, nutrients that were not extracted by animals
digestive systems the first time, go through again. From a medical
perspective, however, this unnatural process continually exposes the
animals to harmful germs.
- At the slaughterhouse:
When an animal arrives at the slaughterhouse it may be covered in feces.
This is a major source of contaminated meat because potentially fatal
organisms such as E. coli O157 and salmonella can enter a meat processing
plant on the skins of infected animals. Many slaughterhouses do not
have a policy with regard to dirty stock.
costs to be kept to a minimum the animals are put through the system
as quickly as possible. Speed is of great importance in the process
and similar principles apply for the preparation of chickens, cattle,
sheep and pigs. Automated slaughter and processing on a factory production
line means that the bacteria and viruses can spread widely. The same
implements are used to slaughter one animal after another with little
washing in-between so the bacteria spread rapidly between carcasses.
When the animal is split open its insides fall out along with the
contents of the gut, which is often where the bacteria live. It is
likely that the bacteria will spill onto the rest of the animal and
infect the meat. If a living animal went into a slaughterhouse bug-free,
there is a good chance that it would emerge as a disease-ridden carcass.
And dont count on the government to stop contaminated carcasses
from reaching the market: One investigation determined that meat inspectors
in chicken processing plants have an average of two seconds per bird
to check for signs of contamination (3).
- Butchering and
A lack of hygiene can cause food poisoning bacteria to be spread. Processed
meats tend to be more dangerous because cooked meats are the ideal breeding
ground for bacteria.
A combination of poor food handling, inadequately trained staff and
insufficient legal controls creates an environment which is highly conducive
to outbreaks of food poisoning.
- In the home:
Cross-contamination from raw to cooked meat can spread bugs. There is
also a chance of cross-contamination from raw meat to vegetables. Bad
hygiene in the kitchen is a common cause of food poisoning.
chicken and the egg
reaches its peak with chickens so it is not surprising that chicken meat
and eggs are the most common source of food poisoning bacteria. According
to Time Magazine, bad chicken kills at least 1,000 people in the U.S.
each year - and thats a conservative estimate (4)! Broiler chickens
(those reared for meat) are kept in appalling conditions and reared like
popcorn - to be puffy, fluffy and produced quickly. Thousands of them
are squeezed into a shed, fed constantly in artificial light, and not
cleaned out once during their seven week lives. So not only do they live
in their own excreta, they also live on top of the chickens that die in
the process. Up to 20 per cent of broiler chickens don't survive the ordeal
There are 2,000 different
types of salmonella bacteria and the intestines of the chicken act like
a reservoir and provide the potential for the spread of bacteria. In recent
years, the amount of chicken eaten in the United States has risen dramatically,
so it is not surprising that food poisoning is on the increase.
Battery/Layer hens are stacked in tiny cages in dim, stinking sheds. After
an egg is laid it rolls into a collecting gully. Food and water are supplied
automatically and lights are on for about 17 hours a day to promote egg
laying. Up to 100,000 birds are kept in each of these sheds. The combination
of a lack of fresh air, selective breeding and the caging of the birds
in overcrowded conditions so that they cannot even exercise, has led to
the spreading of disease and to distress and suffering.
Food poisoning bacteria
can enter an egg by two methods.
- Ovarian infection
- the infection is already in the egg when its laid. Bacteria
get through the gut wall and into the internal organs including the
blood. Therefore the eggs become infected via the ovaries.
- bacteria get inside the egg when the egg is washed (6). Both broiler
and battery/layer chickens are often fed the infected remains of their
own kind - allowing salmonella to spread like wildfire. You would not
be able to tell by simply looking at a chicken or an egg whether it
contains food poisoning bacteria. If you eat an infected egg that is
not properly cooked, the salmonella may grow in you! It has been known
for years that modern intensive methods of broiler and egg production
are riddled with salmonella.
of food poisoning
Salmonella infections are most common in chickens but do occur in cows
and pigs. An animal infected with salmonella excretes salmonella and
therefore will cross-infect any other healthy animal with which it comes
into contact - at the farm, to and from market and in the slaughterhouse.
It would be difficult to devise a better, more efficient system for
recycling salmonella than modern livestock farming. Its methods seem
tailor-made to produce disease and spread infection among animals destined
for human consumption. Salmonellosis is the infection of the intestinal
tract. However, if the live bacteria penetrate the intestinal tissue
and enter the blood stream the salmonella bacteria can colonize other
tissues causing septicemia, meningitis, osteomyelitis and even death.
According to the Center for Science in the Public Interest, infected
chickens lay an estimated 2.3 million contaminated eggs each year, and
a recent risk of assessment on eggs conducted by the United States
Department of Agriculture (USDA) said that Salmonella enteriditis (SE)
contaminated eggs have caused an average of 660,000 illnesses and 330
deaths annually. (7)
Campylobacter is the number one cause of food poisoning, with more than
2.5 million cases of Campylobacter diarrhea estimated to occur in the
U.S. annually, according to the Centers for Disease Control (8). According
to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, one survey showed that 50%
of Campylobacter infections are associated with either eating inadequately
cooked or recontaminated chicken meat or handling chickens. It is the
leading bacterial cause of sporadic (non-cluster cases) diarrheal disease
in the U.S.(9) Infection is usually caused by eating chicken or turkey
that is undercooked, or from drinking unpasteurized milk. Campylobacter
infection occurs particularly in children and young adults often five
to ten days after eating infected food. This is because it takes five
to ten days for the bacteria to multiply to huge amounts in the gut
and cause disease.
E. coli is a normal inhabitant of the gastro-intestinal tract of humans
and animals. However some strains have increased virulence and can cause
illness. Today, the Centers for Disease Control estimates that there
are 20,000 cases of E. coli O157:H7 infection in the U.S. each year
associated with the consumption of contaminated beef, raw milk, and
water. (10) Sub-groups of disease-causing E. coli are distinguished
according to their method of attacking the host:
a. Sticking to
the gut wall.
b. Invading the lining of the gut.
c. Producing toxins
The most serious
form of E. coli is known as VTEC- verocytotoxin-producing Esherichia
coli; the verocytotoxin is a poison and potent inflammatory. This
toxin can cause severe hemorrhagic colitis (which usually presents
as bloody diarrhea) and damage to the kidneys. Another name for the
verotoxin-producing E. coli is E.coli O157. E. coli O157 has been
of concern since1983 when a discovery was made: Gastro-enteritis can
lead to Hemolytic Uremic Syndrome (HUS) which is a form of kidney
failure. HUS is a complication of a VTEC bacterial infection. The
bacteria adhere to the gut and release a chemical into the blood stream
which causes kidney failure. It is most likely to affect the young
and the elderly. VTEC is now thought to be the biggest cause of acute
short term renal failure in children and farmed animals; cattle in
particular, are thought to be the reservoir of infection. According
to the CDC, "with intensive care, the death rate for hemolytic
uremic syndrome is 3%-5%. About one-third of persons with hemolytic
uremic syndrome have abnormal kidney function many years later, and
a few require long-term dialysis. Another 8% of persons with hemolytic
uremic syndrome have other lifelong complications, such as high blood
pressure, seizures, blindness, paralysis, and the effects of having
part of their bowel removed." (11)
In 1993 there
was an outbreak of E. coli O157 which began in the Pacific Northwest
in early January. Over 450 people were taken ill, 21 were put on dialysis
and 3 died. The bacteria were traced to contaminated frozen beef patties
served in a fast food shop in Washington State. One of the most recent
E. coli outbreaks was near Albany, NY, in September, 1999. There were
over 1000 people sickened and at least 122 confirmed cases including
65 hospitalized and 2 deaths (12). Health officials believe the source
was cow manure from a nearby barn which washed into ground water,
contaminating untreated well water used at a County Fair. E. coli
food poisoning bacteria can be found in raw milk and undercooked or
raw hamburger meat. E. coli O157 has been around for 15 years and
has provided a test for the whole system of food production, showing
up the weak spots. It has raised questions about whether the United
States Department of Agriculture (USDA) is putting the interests of
the food industry above those of the consumer.
These bacteria normally live in the human intestinal tract and generally
do no harm. But if they are allowed to incubate in warm foods, they
can cause problems. Infections due to Clostridium perfingens are most
commonly reported in connection with beef and meat products, particularly
soups and gravy. Outbreaks are linked to poor temperature control. Mass
quantities of food left unrefrigerated for prolonged periods before
consumption pose a risk. Clostridium perfingens bacteria are anaerobes,
which means that they can only live without air and therefore in foods
that are vacuum packed. They form spores, which multiply rapidly when
food is cooling and heavy contamination occurs. Once ingested, the bacteria
in the food produce an enterotoxin which leads to the food poisoning
This is the infection of Listeriosis monocytogenes bacteria which has
the unusual quality of being able to flourish at very low temperatures,
i.e., refrigerators (13). Listeria is commonly found in feta cheese,
delicatessen and other ready to eat foods, including hot dogs and sandwich
slices (14). Contracting listeriosis produces flu-like symptoms and
is a big risk for pregnant women as it can lead to blood poisoning,
birth defects such as miscarriages and stillbirths and can produce abscesses,
meningitis, septicemia, and death (15). In the United States, an estimated
1,100 persons become seriously ill with listeriosis each year; of these,
250 die, according to the Center for Disease Control (16).
This illness is relatively rare and brought on by eating improperly
canned or preserved food contaminated with a toxin produced by the bacteria
Clostridium botulism which is naturally present in the intestines of
some animals and fish. The bacteria need certain conditions to thrive
1. The absence of oxygen (e.g. vacuum packed food)
2. Nutrients and moisture (e.g. meat)
3. Absence of inhibitors
4. A suitable temperature - botulism bacteria can survive as low as
26ºF/-3.3ºC. Of the infected victims, between 20% and 50%
For those with more exotic tastes; according to the American Food and
Drug Administration up to 10% of oysters and other raw shellfish contain
this bacteria which can cause serious illness and has been known to
kill people. Viruses are also emerging as an increasing cause of some
outbreaks of food poisoning from shellfish (17). There is no way of
sorting infected and non-infected shellfish, so its pot luck for the
Antibiotics have been
the wonder drug of the last fifty years. It appears, however, that we
have been taking them for granted. Most of today's doctors are willing
to prescribe the drugs for almost any sign of infection, be it a sore
throat, or a headache, or the virus-caused common cold, against which
antibiotics are ineffective. If we take antibiotics for such minor ailments
our body can forget how to defend itself against infection. Therefore
our body's ability to strengthen its own immune system is reduced and
we are more prone to illness. If the antibiotics used are broad spectrum
(able to kill a lot of different kinds of bacteria) it is possible that
useful bacteria will be wiped out along with the infectious bacteria.
The body is then open to infection from other bacterial species, molds,
viruses and other microbes which can colonize the bacterial wastelands.
The smaller and simpler
a species, the faster it can evolve to survive environmental change. Micro-organisms
are small and simple and therefore able to evolve rapidly to side-step
our attempts at control. In fact antibiotics put selective pressure on
bacteria to develop defense mechanisms and to become resistant. Thus the
super-bug is born!
The National Academy
of Sciences recently concluded that agricultural uses of antibiotics pose
a risk to the public health. (18) The British Medical Association's chairman
Dr. Sandy Macara has stated that "There is a real prospect that the
majority of our antibiotics could become impotent for the purposes on
which we have relied upon them for 40 years." This is a worldwide
Modern animal farming
depends to a large extent on antibiotics to produce cheap meat. Using
antibiotics in animal feeds is a short term solution to the various diseases
that occur during intensive farming. Antibiotics are used as a prophylactic
- which means that they can prevent disease occurring in the animals.
The antibiotics are also used as feed additives to ensure that the animals
gain weight. For reasons no one fully understands, antibiotics promote
the growth of animals but in the process they foster the growth of bacteria
that can resist antibiotics.
Antibiotics in livestock
feeds have given bacteria the upper hand in human illness and hence they
have been named Super-bugs. Antibiotic resistant bacteria, or super
bugs, are passed on to meat-eaters when they eat infected flesh.
After all, you are what you eat and if you eat animals you also ingest
their diseases and the drugs they have been given. Because the antibiotics
given to animals are generally the same as those used for our medicine,
a super-bug in your body is likely to defeat any antibiotic that your
doctor can prescribe. According to Stuart Levy of Tufts University School
of Medicine, former president of the American Society for Microbiology,
estimates are that approximately half of the antibiotics produced in the
U.S. today are used in agriculture, citing a 1998 Institute of Medicine
report (19). As long as intensive farming continues with the extensive
use of antibiotics, coupled with the over-prescription of antibiotics
to humans, the problems can only get bigger (20).
The most recent example
of this is salmonella DT104 which is resistant to antibiotics. Experts
have linked this strain of food poisoning to pork, sausages, chicken,
and sick farm animals. 25% or more of human salmonella infections are
now resistant to drug therapy. If antibiotic-resistant salmonella are
eaten in food they can remain dormant in the gut while being held in check
by the normal intestinal bacteria. Then if antibiotics are used to treat
some other illness they will kill off the normal gut bacteria and the
salmonella can resist the antibiotic and overgrow. This leads to serious
illness. Many experts believe that this antibiotic-resistant form of salmonella
is a rising threat, and that cases of salmonella typhimurium have rocketed.
The problem is even
worse than simply the antibiotic-resistant bacteria in the food animals
themselves. Bacteria have the capability of rapidly transferring and spreading
the antibiotic-resistance character to other bacterial species, including
those which cause human diseases. Therefore, diseases which are not even
related to food consumption may become resistant to antibiotics, and hence
a much greater threat. The use of antibiotics in animal feed, by selecting
for the predominance of antibiotic-resistant bacterial species, is thus
a global threat to human health for every individual on earth. This irresponsible
misuse of antibiotics is unilaterally disarming our species from our precious
last line of defense, and devastating epidemics may well be the legacy
of the hunger for inexpensive meat.
The use of antibiotics
has made intensive farming possible, but at what price? The meat may be
cheap enough, but what about disease control? What about animal welfare?
What about safety measures?
The choice is yours. Time and time again it has been proven that a meat-ridden
diet can lead to health problems and that a diet which is high in vegetable
intake can provide protection from such problems. The evidence is clear
and the action to take is simple. Basically we need to turn more and more
to a vegan diet if we want good health and a long life, and lets
face it, who doesn't?
cooking kill the food poisoning bacteria?
Food which is left to sit for hours at room temperature provides the perfect
conditions for staphylococci to produce a chemical toxin. This poison
is called an enterotoxin and it is not destroyed by heat, so cooking the
food will not prevent illness. Staphylococci thrive in meat products,
cold meats, milk and egg products. Most bacteria can be destroyed by cooking
food at a constant high temperature for a long time. However, there is
no simple way for the consumer to tell if the bacteria and viruses have
can I do to protect myself and my family from food poisoning?
The individual alone is limited in what he/she can do to insure that food
is safe to eat. Because of factory farming, slaughterhouses and processors,
it is effectively out of our hands to control food poisoning. But we can
choose what we eat and serve. And the best way to avoid contamination
is by declining the dubious honor of being at the top of the food chain.
A vegan diet is by far the safest.
Goldman is Professor of Microbiology & Molecular Genetics. He
has a Ph.D. in Biochemistry from M.I.T. and was a Postdoctoral
Fellow in Pathology at Harvard Medical School. His outstanding
career includes being a Consultant in Pathology at Harvard Medical
School; Assistant Research Microbiologist at the University of
California, Irvine, Medical School; Professor at the NJ Medical
School-University of Medicine & Dentistry of NJ; Guest Associate
Scientist, Biology Department, Brookhaven National Laboratory
and Adjunct Professor, Ph.D. Program in Biochemistry, City University
of New York. He is also a scientific journalist, on the editorial
board of the journal "Protein Expression and Purification"; Past
President, UMDNJ chapters, of the American Association of University
Professors (AAUP) and *previously* a Member of an American Cancer
Society Peer Review Group. He has had his scientific works published
in 66 publications as well as having 70 abstracts printed in