HOW DO E. COLI AND SALMONELLA GET INTO OUR FOOD? E. coli is a type of bacteria that often resides within the intestinal tracks of animals, including people. Many strains are harmless, but strain 0157 causes serious food poisoning. In the intestines, the bacteria help to maintain health by producing vitamin K, and by keeping other species out. When fecal matter, manure, or pieces of the intestines are poorly processed and come into contact with meat or vegetables, the bacteria contained within them can attach themselves to food. Salmonella is also a bacteria, capable of causing diarrhea and other potentially severe illnesses. It can be found in water, fecal matter, and the intestines of mammals and birds. The best defense against infection is careful cleaning and cooking of meats and eggs.
WHY DOES FOOD SPOIL? Processing and improper storage practices can expose food items to heat or oxygen, which is what causes deterioration. In ancient times, salt was used to cure meats and fish to preserve them longer, while sugar is added to fruits to prevent spoilage. Certain herbs, spices and vinegar can also be used as preservatives, along with anti-oxidants, most notably Vitamins C and E. In processed foods, certain FDA-approved chemical additives also help extend shelf life.
The Biophysical Society contributed to the information contained in the TV portion of this report.