Campylobacter is an illness caused by bacteria of the same name (it’s also sometimes called campylobateriosis). The bacteria is found in most of the poultry we eat, as it exists in birds and doesn’t make them sick.
More serious illness may require the use of an antibiotic to clear up, and in some cases people develop arthritis or a very rare nerve disease called Guillain-BarrÃ© syndrome after having campylobacter. This disorder causes the body’s immune system to attack the nerves, resulting in paralysis.
Campylobacter is almost always isolated to an individual or small group that ate undercooked poultry, but more widespread outbreaks are possible, usually associated with unpasturized milk or tainted drinking water.
These bacteria live in the guts of ruminant animals, most notably cattle, but also deer, elk, goats and sheep. In the slaughtering process the intestines can be cut, allowing the bacteria onto the meat. E. coli usually doesn’t make the host animal sick, but when humans ingest it they’re often in for diarrhea, which can be bloody, stomach cramps, vomiting and sometimes a low fever.
Food science nerd Harold McGee reports that about a third of all people who develop E. coli illness need to be hospitalized, and about 5 percent of those die. It’s most dangerous in children. About 5 to 10 percent of those who get infected with E. coli will develop a more serious illness, hemolytic uremic syndrome, which can lead to kidney failure.
The most common culprit for E. coli contamination is ground beef, as grinding meat from many different cows together spreads the bacteria across a wider range of packages. It can also be found in unpasturized milk or apple cider, or cheeses made from raw milk.
If you’ve ever been pregnant you’ve probably heard about the dangers of listeriosis, or infection with the bacteria Listeria monocytogenes.
That’s because pregnant women are about 20 times more likely than other healthy adults to get listeriosis, and about a third of all cases of listeria infection strike pregnant women. (Newborns, the elderly, people with weakened immune systems and diseases like cancer, diabetes and kidney disease get most of the other infections.)
Listeria is found in soil and water and especially in places that have been fertilized with manure. The bacteria is carried by animals it doesn’t harm, and it can contaminate animal products including meat, milk and cheese, as well as vegetables that come into contact with the bacteria.
Infections can be caused by uncooked meats, raw-milk cheeses, vegetables and cold cuts or soft cheeses that may be contaminated at the deli counter after processing. Pasteurization and cooking kill listeria, but products can be contaminated after cooking and before packaging or through cross-contamination at the deli.
Fever, muscle aches, nausea or diarrhea are the most common symptoms, but the infection can spread to the nervous system, causing headaches, a stiff neck and convulsions. About 2,500 people become seriously ill in the United States each year from listeria and about 500 die.
“Mad cow” disease
Mad cow, properly known as bovine spongiform encephalopathy, is a chronic, degenerative disease affecting the nervous systems of cattle. Consumption of infected cattle has been linked to a disease known as variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob Disease in humans, which is always fatal.
While it’s not completely clear how BSE in cattle is connected to vCJD in humans, it’s thought that the disease is passed by eating meat that contains brain tissue. The parts of the cow considered to be most infectious for humans are the brain, spinal cord, retina, optic nerve, and dorsal root and trigeminal ganglia. McGee reports it may also be found in muscles, which means many different cuts of meat may be potentially dangerous.
The disease was spread among cattle when they were given feed containing these parts from sick cows, a practice that has since been stopped.
The illness has killed more than 160 people in Britain and nearly 40 elsewhere in the world, but since the illness has an incubation period of a year or more, it’s likely there are more cases that have yet to surface.
The infectious agent is known as a prion, a kind of protein that carries the disease between cows or from cow to human. If meat you eat has these prions, there’s nothing you can do about it; cooking will not affect it. Symptoms of vCJD include dementia, memory loss, hallucinations and personality changes paired with physical changes such as jerky movements, slurred speech, difficulty walking or changes in posture or gait and seizures.
Death from this disease can happen in a matter of weeks or months, but some people manage to live for years with the disease.
One of the most famous and common of the foodborne illnesses, salmonella is a bacteria that lives in the intestinal tracts of animals. When feces comes in contact with food that isn’t cooked, the bacteria can be transmitted to humans.
About 40,000 cases of salmonella are reported each year, but since many people don’t seek treatment it’s thought the number of people who get it might be 30 or more times larger than the number of reported cases.
Salmonella sometimes leads to Reiter’s syndrome, a condition of painful joints, eye irritation and painful urination that can last for months or years and may in turn lead to chronic arthritis, but this is pretty rare.
The best way to prevent salmonella infection is to always cook meat and eggs to the suggested temperatures and be careful not to contaminate other foods with the juices from uncooked meat, poultry or eggs.
Staphylococcus aureus, more commonly known as staph, is a common cause of food poisoning. Staph can linger in foods such as meat, poultry, eggs, dairy products, meat, egg, pasta and potato salads, sandwich fillings and filled baked goods like eclairs and cream pies.
Staph can grow even in the refrigerator, and infested food won’t have an off odor to let you know you shouldn’t eat it.
People who eat food that has staph in it usually get sick very quickly and will usually have nausea, vomiting and abdominal cramping. In more severe cases people may have headaches, muscle cramps and changes in blood pressure.
Trichinosis, also called trichinellosis, is an infection caused by eating animals infected with the larvae of a worm called trichinella. It can be contracted by eating wild carnivorous animals or domesticated pigs.
This infection is pretty gross to describe. When you eat tainted meat, the larvae or cysts of the worms are ingested, and your stomach acid dissolves the cyst, releasing the worm, which matures in a couple of days in your small intestine.
The worms mate in there and the females lay eggs, which then develop into immature worms, travel through the arteries into the muscles and there form cysts again.
You might get a stomachache, nausea, diarrhea, vomiting, fatigue or fever in one or two days after eating tainted meat, and two to eight weeks later you may have further symptoms such as headaches, fever and chills, coughing, eye swelling, muscle or joint pain, itchy skin, constipation or diarrhea. Many mild cases go undiagnosed and go away on their own, but if you have a severe case it can be treated with drugs.
Just to name a few, there are many more….
The processed “junk” meat foods post lower risks in food borne illnesses but higher in other health issues.