Safe Food - Definition
The concept of safe and wholesome food encompasses many diverse elements. From a nutritional aspect, it is food that contains the nutrients humans need and that helps prevent long-term chronic disease, promoting health into old age. From a food safety aspect, it is food that is free not only from toxins, pesticides, and chemical and physical contaminants, but also from microbiological pathogens such as bacteria and viruses that can cause illness. Some of the threats have been around since ancient times, while others are newer, the result of changing lifestyles, production practices, and even evolution of microorganisms themselves. Ensuring the safety of food is a shared responsibility among producers, industry, government, and consumers.
It is caused by eating food that is contaminated with pathogens such as bacteria, viruses, or parasites. At least four factors are necessary for foodborne illness to occur:
- (1) a pathogen;
- (2) a food vehicle;
- (3) conditions that allow the pathogen to survive, reproduce, or produce a toxin; and
- (4) a susceptible person who ingests enough of the pathogen or its toxin to cause illness.
The symptoms often are similar to those associated with the flu-nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, abdominal pain, fever, headache. Most people have experienced foodborne illness, even though they might not recognize it as such, instead blaming it on the “stomach flu” or “24-hour bug.”
Symptoms usually disappear within a few days, but in some cases there can be more long-lasting effects such as joint inflammation or kidney failure. In the most severe cases people die from foodborne illness.
It is difficult to trace a bout of foodborne illness back to a particular food because illness can occur anywhere from an hour to several days, or even weeks, after eating the contaminated food. Epidemiologists faced with tracing a foodborne illness out-break may have to interview dozens of people, asking them to recall everything they ate for the past week. It is difficult for people to remember everything they ate yesterday, much less one week ago. Further complicating the picture is that one person may eat the contaminated food and not become ill, while someone else in a higher-risk group does. In 81 percent of foodborne illnesses the cause remains unknown.
Experts describe food safety problems in terms of hazards, with those hazards categorized as chemical, microbiological, or physical. They have long considered the
most dangerous hazards to be those of microbiological origin, followed by those of
naturally occurring toxins. However, pesticides and additives have been prominent subjects for the media, which may lead some people to focus on those hazards more than others. But as more stories emerge of people becoming ill from bacterial contamination, the public is increasingly aware of the importance of microbiological hazards. People do die from microbial hazards, but deaths due to consuming pesticide residues or food additives are rare.
Water is a food, and also is subject to microbial contamination. Some pathogens, such as Cryptosporidium parvum, are more waterborne than foodborne.