Restaurant Safety: Preventative Measures For Germs That Cause Food Poisoning

The bulk of material that enters our body does so with the food we eat. While our body can benefit from certain amounts of iron, protein and calcium, there are sometimes other substances in or on our food that aren’t as good for us. If we read a nutrition label, we are made aware of saturated fat and other unnecessary content, but the label does not account for bacteria. Some foods come prepackaged with bacteria while others attract it during preparation or poor preservation. The following is a list of some of the diseases that can be caused by foodborne bacteria.



Botulism is a disease caused by the bacterium Clostridium botulinum. The bacterium releases a toxin that, even in the most minimal quantities, paralyzes muscle. The effects are so intense that they have been used for bioterrorism. However, if someone were to get botulism it is much more likely the result of eating preserved foods without the proper preparation. In fact, the disease was originally called “sausage poisoning” in response to the first documented cases being attributed to a German sausage. To prevent botulism, all canned foods should be heated to at least 241 degrees Fahrenheit or boiled for ten minutes before consumption. Approximately 110 cases of botulism are diagnosed each year in the United States and only five to ten percent resulted in the death of the host thanks to modern medicine.



Most people have probably heard of Salmonella, but rarely do they hear about Campylobacter even though it causes food poisoning three times as often. It affects the intestines causing severe abdominal pain and diarrhea. Campylobacter originates in livestock, particularly farm animals and especially chickens. Therefore, the most common cause is the consumption of infected poultry. As a matter of fact, more than 20% of chicken meat is infected with the bacteria. Fortunately, appropriately preparing the meat can kill it. Generally, Campylobacter will go away on its own but is can occasionally lead to urinary tract infections, meningitis or Guillain-Barre syndrome. 


E. coli

Escherichia Coli, which we generally shorten to E. coli, is one of the fastest growing bacteria known to man. It can be found in a number of foods and beverages including uncooked beef, unpasteurized milk and apple cider, cheese, sandwich meats and it can even contaminate water. To make matters worse, E. coli is easily transferrable and can get on the hands. This information is daunting, but it should be noted that most strains of E. coli are harmless. It is only a select few strains, such as the infamous O157:H7 that can cause disease and infection. They do so by releasing Shiga toxin into the body. Cooks should always wash their hands and countertops before handling food. In addition, certain foods such as fruits and vegetables should be washed in preparation as well. Pink meat should not be served to eat and it is always important to make sure milk and cider is pasteurized.


Hepatitis A

Hepatitis A is both the name of a virus and a disease of the liver that results from the virus. It is the least intense element on the hepatitis spectrum but it can still cause abdominal pain, fever, vomiting and a feeling of fatigue. Hepatitis A generally enters the body through the mouth, uses the host as a place to multiply and is then expelled with feces. For this reason it is always crucial to wash your hands after you use the restroom. Perhaps the most common food-related cause of Hepatitis A is consumption of undercooked shellfish. Before cooking shellfish, be sure your hands are cleaned and disinfected with alcohol. In 2009, forty-two cases were diagnosed with one resulting in death. More than half of the cases reported were soon after travel to foreign nations.



Listeria monocytogenes are bacteria that cause an illness known as Listeriosis. This disease is generally flu-like with symptoms including nausea, fever and diarrhea. However, people with weak immune systems such as unborn babies can be seriously damaged. It has been known to cause miscarriages. Most bacteria cannot grow in the cold conditions of a refrigerator, but Listeria can. It is also resistant to higher temperatures that would normally kill other bacteria. This is why it is important to heat food excessively and let it cool, rather than just to heat it to a comfortable temperature. Listeria is most common in cheese and other dairy products.



Norovirus is a contagious illness that causes gastroenteritis, or inflammation of the stomach and intestines. The most common locations for norovirus outbreaks are in shellfish and salads. To prevent the virus from spreading, be sure to always cook oysters thoroughly. It is also a good precaution to wash fruits and vegetables before eating them. Other suggestions from the Bureau of Communicable Disease include throwing away cleaning rags in sealed plastic bags and washing clothing thoroughly, especially if it has come in contact with stool. Norovirus can also be found in ice machines that use municipal water so be sure to perform regular maintenance on yours if you have one.



Salmonella is a bacterium that caused an infection known as Salmonellosis. The main source of Salmonella is infected animal products such as meat and eggs. Hamburgers and sausages should not be pink in the middle. You should always make sure to cook the meat until the pink coloring disappears. Even if you are blackening the meat, Salmonella can still be transferred if it had gotten on your hands during preparation. Wash your hands often and thoroughly. This includes under the fingernails and between fingers. Also, never forget to refrigerate or even freeze meat that is not being used. The cold temperature will not kill Salmonella, but it will stop the bacteria from multiplying. In the United States there are about 40,000 reported cases of Salmonella each year with less than one-hundred dying.



Shigellosis is a disease caused by Shigella bacteria. It causes severe stomach cramps and blood in stool. Shigellosis is often transmitted through food that has come in contact with the Shigella bacteria. A farm with sewage in it can easily infect the vegetables. Flies can also transmit the bacteria if they come in contact with it. Only peel fruit with clean hands. There are around 18,000 cases of shigellosis reported each year in the United States. However, it is believed the minor cases for which people do not visit the doctor could bring these numbers past 350,000.


Staph Infection

Staph infections are caused by the bacterium Staphylococcus aureus. The most common type of this bacterium is MRSA, or Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus and it is said to be carried on up to 30% of the U.S. population. Of course, the vast majority of these individuals are not infected – they are just merely carrying the bacteria. In the event of infection, the most noticeable symptoms are boils and pimples on the skin. In rare, but serious cases, they can also infect the bloodstream. For this reason it is always important to keep open wounds covered, especially when handling food. Even when not injured, staph bacteria can be carried on the skin or in the nose.