Food Safety

Food Safety

By Daniel Rocha 


Food safety protects food from pathogenic organisms, chemicals, toxins, and physical contaminants during all stages of the food production chain, including farming, harvesting, slaughtering, processing, packaging, distribution, retail sales, and meal preparation.



Even though the food supply in the United States is probably the safest globally, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimate that about 48 million Americans undergo food-borne illness or food poisoning yearly, the World Health Organization indicates concern that food contamination and large-scale food recalls may be on the rise is due to early warning systems and increased vigilance. Scientists fear that climate change increases the risk of contamination from pesticides and other chemicals, biotoxins, and pathogenic microbes. In contrast, other experts have been concerned with the biosecurity of the food supply while keeping food from intentional threats to its safety.


Food safety includes preventing the contamination of crops from unsafe levels of pesticides and herbicides and avoiding poisonous mushrooms, mercury-contaminated fish, and shellfish contaminated with algal toxins. Food illnesses occur due to pathogenic organisms like bacteria, viruses, and parasites. Most foodborne illnesses are mild and short-lived, but some can cause severe complications and even death among the young, the very old, pregnant women, unborn children, and patients with weakened or compromised immune systems. Foods that cause fatal illnesses are tainted with natural toxins, synthetic chemicals, or physical contaminants.

(Odle et al., 2020)


Food Contamination


Food contamination happens when microorganisms like viruses, bacteria, other parasites, and artificial chemicals make food unsafe for consumption.




Food can be contaminated in the field, through animal feed, slaughterhouses, or processing plants, during transport, in markets and restaurants, or the home kitchen. The most common foods contaminated include raw or undercooked meat, poultry, eggs, fish, and unpasteurized milk. Processed foods that blend ingredients from multiple sources are inclined to the home kitchen. 


“Sources include:

  • application of illegal or higher-than-approved pesticides or herbicides to crops
  • waste disposal on agricultural land
  • bacteria on growing fruits and vegetables
  • molds and their toxic products that develop in grains during growth, harvesting, or storage
  • during processing, improper handling of raw materials, contaminated water, inadequate or inappropriate disinfection, equipment malfunctions, bad temperatures, rodent or insect infestations, or contamination with poisons used to control pests
  • during transportation and storage, improper temperatures, inappropriate use of fumigants, inadequate sanitization of food-carrying tanker trucks, or contamination with insects or rodent droppings
  • in stores and restaurants, wrong temperatures, cross-contamination between raw and cooked foods, improper disinfection of food-preparation surfaces, transmission by infected food handlers, or improper handwashing by food handlers
  • in the home, unhygienic food handling, food left at room temperature, inadequate cooking, cross-contamination between raw and cooked foods, or failure to reheat leftovers properly.”

(Laberge et al., 2020) 



Washing raw fruits and vegetables reduce but do not eliminate contaminants. Refrigeration or freezing generally prevents bacteria from multiplying. High levels of salt, sugar, or acid prevent bacteria from growing in preserved foods, and cooking thoroughly kills pathogenic microorganisms.



Symptoms of food contamination depend on the type; abdominal pain, cramps, diarrhea, nausea, and vomiting. A delay will occur once contaminated food is ingested. There is usually a delay before symptoms develop. But signs of chemical food poisoning appear rapidly, beginning with a tingling in the mouth, then the arms and legs, followed by dizziness and difficulty breathing. Poisoning symptoms from artificial toxic chemicals may develop rapidly or slowly and vary with the chemical and amount consumed.


Food Poisoning


Food poisoning, or foodborne illness, is caused by eating foods or drinking water contaminated with bacteria, viruses, parasites, or environmental toxins. Food poisoning is commonly known as gastroenteritis or infectious diarrhea.

(Kaczkowski et al., 2020)


Drinking-Water Supply


The drinking-water supply arrives from two sources, groundwater, and surface water. The drinking water supply in developed countries removes solid contaminants by settling or filtration with disinfectant. In developing countries, drinking water is used untreated directly from the source.


Groundwater is brought up by suitable pumps, while surface water is taken from lakes and rivers. Surface water requires additional treatment than groundwater. Public water is derived from surface water, groundwater, or a combination of the two. Groundwater is in wells and most private water systems. Bottled water comes from either source. Water-treatment plants in the United States utilize chemical coagulation to remove impurities and contaminants. Aluminum sulfate is added to the water, resulting in some contaminants coagulating with the aluminum and precipitating out. A subsequent treatment process removes the remaining aluminum, leaving a residual amount.

(Davidson 2019) 



Most drinking waters contain pesticides, trichloroethylene, and trihalomines. Pesticides appear through seepage and runoff from agricultural areas. In high doses, they can harm the liver, the kidneys, and the nervous system and increase the risk of various cancers. Trichloroethylene is an industrial solvent and is located near hazardous waste sites. The health risks linked with trichloreothylenes are nervous system damage and cancer. Chlorination of water contaminated with organic matter is liable for trihalomethanes in water and increases cancer rates.

(Davidson 2019) 


The importance of food preparation is a section that should be understood. Many take for granted that we live in the United States, where several federal agencies monitor the safety of our food and water. However, food contamination and illness are still an issue. This causes the concern to educate patients and take the extra steps to ensure that your food and water are safe to consume. 


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Davidson, T., AM. (2019). Drinking-Water Supply. In J. L. Longe (Ed.), The Gale Encyclopedia of Environmental Health (2nd ed., Vol. 1, pp. 253-257). Gale.


Kaczkowski, Crystal, and Fran Hodgkins. "Food Poisoning." The Gale Encyclopedia of Medicine, edited by Jacqueline L. Longe, 6th ed., vol. 3, Gale, 2020, pp. 2069-2075. Gale Health and Wellness, Accessed 2 Sept. 2021.


Laberge, M., Ph.D., & Alic, M., Ph.D. (2020). Food Contamination. In B. Narins (Ed.), The Gale Encyclopedia of Public Health (2nd ed., Vol. 1, pp. 428-433). Gale.


Odle, T. G., Colby, H., Ph.D., & Alic, M., Ph.D. (2020). Food Safety. In B. Narins (Ed.), The Gale Encyclopedia of Public Health (2nd ed., Vol. 1, pp. 435-440). Gale.

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