Foodborne Pathogens Cause Long-Term Problems

December 01, 2009

Foodborne Pathogens Cause Long-Term Problems

A recent quick poll revealed that many consumers are changing their meat eating habits; the majority cite either health prevention regarding chronic disease (e.g. heart disease) or fear of foodborne illness. Consumers limiting their meat consumption habits for either of these two reasons, or the variety of others that we hear on a daily basis, may also (unknowingly) decrease their risk of long-term health complications and disease due to foodborne pathogens as well.

A mid-November report released by the Center for Foodborne Illness, Research & Prevention (CFI) reviewed the twelve most common bacterial, parasitic, and viral pathogens that occasionally find their way into the food supply highlighting the long term complications that can result from contamination. The report did not single out a specific vector for foodborne illness, but ground beef, raw or undercooked poultry and other contaminated foods have been usual suspects in recent years.

Of the twelve, five foodborne pathogens place significant health and economic burdens on Americans, causing serious short- and long-term implications, for both individuals and society. Salmonella, Campylobacter, E.coli O157:H7, Toxoplasma gondii and Listeria monocytogenes are among the major culprits. Those who become infected risk toxins invading the bloodstream. If this occurs, various organs and body systems may become compromised or fail resulting in serious health complications, such as kidney failure, paralysis, seizures and neurological or cognitive impacts.

Underreporting, misdiagnosis, failure of patient to seek medical attention and other hurdles means that only a small fraction of foodborne illnesses are reported to state public health departments and the national surveillance systems at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). As a result, classifying outbreaks and/or locating the source of the illnesses poses a major challenge as does specifically identifying the association between foodborne illness and various long-term health outcomes.

The CFI’s report, in a call for more effective prevention strategies, involving additional investigations into the sources, trends and health burdens of foodborne pathogens says, “many researchers believe that the burden of the long-term health outcomes related to foodborne illness outweigh the burden of acute foodborne illness.” This statement alone has us at taking a step back from the meat counter and taking extra care when cooking and preparing chicken.

Here we have even more reason, and the bar continues to be raised regarding best handling practices from grower to supplier to consumer, as well as public health reporting systems and the collaboration between governmental agencies on the new food safety website ( to keep Americans safe and informed as we continue to enjoy the foods we love. 
The full CFI report can be found here: