In increasing numbers, Americans are becoming sick from what they eat, and many of these sicknesses are life-threatening. Scientists estimate, based on several studies conducted over the past 10 years, that food-borne pathogens sicken between 6.5 and 81 million people and cause some 9,000 deaths in the United States annually.
Symptoms of food-borne illnesses vary tremendously and usually include one or several symptoms: diarrhea, nausea, cramping, and vomiting Depending on the virulence of the pathogen ingested and the amount that actually gets into your system, symptoms may appear as early as 30 minutes after eating contaminated food, or they may take several days or weeks to develop. Most of the time, symptoms occur between 5 and 8 hours after eating and last only a day or two. For certain populations, however, such as the very young or very old or persons with AIDS or other severe illnesses, food-borne illnesses can be fatal.
Several factors may be contributing to the emergence of increasing numbers of food-borne illnesses. According to Michael T. Osterholm, Ph. D. , state epidemiologist in Minneapolis, the movement away from a traditional meat-and potato. American diet to “heart-healthy" eating-increasing consumption of fruits and vegetables and grains-has lead to increasing demand for fresh foods that are not in season most of the year. Today, depending on the season, up to 70 percent of the fruits and vegetables consumed in the United States come from Mexico alone. The upshot is that a visit to developing countries isn't necessary to be stricken with food borne “traveler's diarrhea" because the produce does the traveling. Although we are told when we travel to developing countries, “boil it, peel it, or don't eat it, " we bring these foods into our kitchens, often without even basic washing. One of the ways food becomes contaminated is that it has been watered with contaminated water, fertilized with “organic" fertilizers(animal manure), and not subjected to the same rigorous pesticide regulations as American-raised produce. To give you an idea of the implications of this, studies have shown that E. coli(a lethal bacterial pathogen) can survive in cow manure for up to 70 days and can multiply in foods grown with manure unless heat or additives such as salt or preservatives are used to kill the microbes. There are essentially no regulations that say farmers can't use animal manure in growing their crops.
Key factors associated with the increasing spread of food borne diseases include:
Globalization of the food supply: Because the food supply is distributed worldwide, the possibility of exposure to pathogens native to remote regions of the world is greater.
Inadvertent introduction of pathogens into new geographic regions: One theory is that cholera was introduced into waters off the coast of the southern United States when a cargo ship discharged contaminated ballast as it came into harbor. Other pathogens may enter into aquatic life in a similar manner.
Exposure to unfamiliar food-borne hazards. Travellers, refugees, and immigrants who are in foreign countries are exposed to food-borne hazards, and in the course of traveling, bring them home with them.
Changes in microbial populations: Changing microbial populations can lead to the evolution of new pathogens. As a result, new virulence factors develop for old pathogens, or antibiotic resistance to the pathogens develops, making diseases more difficult to treat
Increased susceptibility of varying populations: People are becoming more vulnerable to disease. The numbers of highly susceptible persons are expanding worldwide.
Insufficient education about food safety: Increased urbanization, industrialization, and travel, combined with more people eating out, increase the risk of unsafe food handling and more risk of illness.