Foodborne disease

The incidence of foodborne disease in Spain, as in the majority of industrialized countries, has increased considerably in the last few years. There are different explanations for this. One of them is technical, due to better identification of cases as well as an increase in the reporting carried out by health professionals. Another is that there is a larger percentage of the population that is exposed to hazardous situations. Eating out regularly, ingesting prepared foods frequently or the access to unaccustomed culinary cultures are important potential risks.

Foodborne illness is usually associated with eating food outside the home. We tend to think that the hygienic practices at home are much better than at catering premises. This is, in part, due to the large diffusion of outbreaks of foodborne disease by the media since they usually affect large numbers of people. However, the real figures are different, because the proportion of outbreaks originating at home in Spain is 49%, quite high when compared to other European countries. Outbreaks in bars and restaurants, on the contrary, are 30% of the total.

The most frequently identified infectious agent responsible for food infections in Spain is salmonella, as in other neighbouring countries similar in geography and culture. It stands out among the rest because it appears in practically 50% of the officially registered cases.

In most cases which do not affect vulnerable populations, such as children, the elderly, the sick or people with reduced immunity, gastrointestinal infections caused by these agents are usually benign. As to their origin, most reported salmonella infections are caused by consuming different types of food in which eggs are the main ingredient.

Viruses constitute another one of the microbiologic hazards in food. Reports usually indicate that they have a low incidence, but it is also true that, in the majority of cases, the cause of foodborne illness is usually not known and, in these cases, viruses could play an important role. Hepatitis A is one of the most important ones. Food handlers that are infected or carry the disease are able to contaminate food.

In our homes as well as outside them, most of these outbreaks are due to bad hygiene during food handling, as well as to storing food at inadequate temperatures. Insufficient refrigeration, partly associated with preparing food too long in advance and with warming food at temperatures that are too low, is the main cause. This is why the possibility of being infected with a foodborne disease is lower when hygiene is higher.

Did you know...

Most veterinary consultations performed on exotic animals are due to illnesses caused by inadequate care. You should research the biology and the dietary and housing needs of these pets before purchasing them.

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