“I must have come down with the stomach flu.” How many times have we heard that line used to describe a set of symptoms that include vomiting, diarrhea, intestinal cramps and other gastrointestinal ailments? In reality, there is no such thing as a stomach flu. Flu, or influenza, is a seasonal respiratory infection caused by influenza viruses. Most instances of what is described as stomach flu are actually cases of foodborne illness.
Foodborne illness is disease caused by the consumption of contaminated foods or beverages. Most foodborne illnesses are caused by pathogenic microbes, including bacteria, viruses and sometimes parasites. According to the CDC, more than 250 different foodborne diseases have been described. The most common agents of foodborne illness include:
- E. coli 0157:H7
- Calicivirus, or Norwalk-like virus
Campylobacter, Salmonella and E. coli 0157:H7 are all types of bacteria known to cause human disease. In general, these bacteria cause diarrhea and abdominal cramps, and E. coli 0157:H7 may also cause hemolytic uremic syndrome in which bleeding, kidney failure and death may occur.
Calicivirus generally causes vomiting and is relatively short-lived. Unlike the bacterial agents of foodborne illness, Calicivirus may also be spread from human to human contact.
Foodborne pathogens may contaminate foods through improper handling/cooking, keeping foods at improper temperatures, cross contamination or other means. Once in the food, bacterial pathogens are capable of multiplying rapidly when temperatures are favorable.
After contaminated food has been consumed, there is a delay period known as the incubation period before symptoms appear. During this time, the microbes usually attach to the walls of the intestines and begin to multiply. Some of these pathogens may produce toxins and other lead to the classic symptoms of vomiting, diarrhea and abdominal cramps.
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) oversees the production of food and has issued detailed laboratory test procedures to be used in ensuring food safety. Routine monitoring of both raw materials and finished foodstuffs are important components of any food quality assurance program.
LEGEND’s Phoenix, Arizona laboratory regularly performs testing of foods for various pathogenic microorganisms. Services are also offered for environmental monitoring in places where foods are produced. For more information on LEGEND’s Food and Consumer Product testing services, please visit our website (http://www.legend-group.com/foodconsumer.html ) or call the laboratory directly.
Sources: U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention