The danger of food bacteria in summer
Food bacteria are to blame for a large number of illnesses caused by eating spoiled or contaminated food. This risk is especially aggravated with the arrival of heat. High temperatures contribute to the proliferation of microorganisms in food that can have very negative consequences. In this regard, the WHO, on the occasion of World Health Day on April 7, sought to raise awareness of the importance of maintaining correct and adequate hygiene at all stages that are part of the food chain.
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Bacteria: types and risks
Bacteria are a type of prokaryotic microorganism, i.e. they have no cell nucleus and come in different shapes and sizes. This type of microorganism adapts easily to any type of habitat, being able to survive the most hostile circumstances and conditions. Most bacteria prefer to live in temperate, moist media that are not too acidic or salty. But some survive in all kinds of spaces.
Thus, some need oxygen (aerobic) and develop on the surface of food. Others prefer oxygen-free environments (anaerobic) and therefore develop inside containers. But there are also those that vary their needs depending on the environment (with or without oxygen).
Within the food bacteria, we can find different types. Some of them are harmless, and even beneficial to our health. They are capable of modifying and transforming the organoleptic properties of foods. Yogurt or cheese, for example, are obtained thanks to the action of beneficial food bacteria. These, therefore, live in our body and help to protect it.
On the other hand, there are bacteria that are harmful to humans, which through physical-chemical reactions cause food to putrefy and limit its shelf life.
Pathogenic bacteria, on the other hand, are imperceptible and do not cause alterations in the food, so they are the most difficult to detect. However, they are the most harmful as they generate toxins that can pose a risk to our health.
The most common food bacteria
In any case, the most common bacteria in food are the following:
- Salmonella: this bacterium proliferates in raw eggs and in all the elaborations in which this product is consumed, although it can also appear in raw or undercooked poultry, or in processed foods left at room temperature for many hours. In water, Salmonella is normally transmitted through fecal contamination of sewage discharges, or water that has been in contact with livestock and wildlife.
- Eschericchia coli: this bacterium is found in raw or undercooked beef, as well as in raw products or fresh milk. It may also be present in contaminated or untreated water.
- Listeria monocytogenes: this is found in refrigerated foods (unlike many other bacteria, it can survive and multiply at low temperatures) or ready-to-eat foods made from beef, poultry or fish. It can also be present in raw milk, smoked products, canned or soft cheeses, and of course, in water.
- Campylobacter: this type of bacteria is usually found in raw or undercooked chicken meat, as well as in unpasteurized milk or contaminated or untreated water.
- Staphylococcus aereus: this bacterium is usually present in preparations such as pastry cream, dairy products, protein-rich foods such as cooked ham or poultry and, of course, also in unpurified water.
How do food bacteria proliferate in summer?
As summer and high temperatures approach, bacteria proliferate and multiply. Food can be contaminated both through manual handling and through instrumental handling in the food industry or in the catering sector.
As a general rule, bacteria reproduce at temperatures close to 37 degrees Celsius, so when food reaches these temperatures it is susceptible to the proliferation of these food bacteria . However, the risk increases with incorrect industrial food handling. In this regard, failure to properly follow hygiene standards entails excessive risks. These rules are obvious but sometimes overlooked, putting our health at risk. Some of them would be to always use clean boards to handle different food groups or to always cook with well-washed hands, among others.
Tips to prevent the proliferation of food bacteria
With the high summer temperatures, it is essential to increase certain measures related to food preservation and cooking to avoid the risk of food poisoning.
- Extreme hygiene measures: clean hands and utensils used to handle or cook food thoroughly, especially before and after contact with raw meat, where hot water and soap should be used before continuing with cooking.
- Do not mix raw and cooked foods to avoid cross contamination.
- Be cautious when eating certain raw foods: during cooking, high temperatures kill most pathogenic bacteria, so it is better to opt for cooked preparations. This applies to all types of food, including vegetables that have not been properly washed.
- Drink quality drinking water. Avoid drinking water from wells and springs, or any water that we are not sure of its quality and origin.
- Wash vegetables and fruits properly with potable water. If quality water is not available, it is recommended to peel the fruit before eating it.
- Keep foods adequately refrigerated until they are to be consumed.
- If your hands have wounds or sores, use gloves when cooking.
- Pay attention to canned food, especially if it is homemade. Note the presence of any milky liquid around the vegetables (packaging should be clear), cracked jars, loose lids and swollen cans or lids. In these cases, throw the product away as its consumption can be very dangerous to health.