How Did Bacteria Get in My Food?

  • Where Bacteria Brews

    Dozens of E. coli and Salmonella-related recalls have been announced recently, but how did the bacteria, which comes from feces, get there in the first place?Here’s why the foods that might be in your fridge have been recalled.Photo Credit: Toby Ciranjiiva Tatsuyama-Kurk
    Bad Beef
  • Bad Beef

    Millions of pounds of contaminated beef have ruined appetites, sickened (even paralyzed) and killed meat eaters and bankrupt Topps Meat Co.What might be especially frightening is that it only takes a few E. coli cells to make you sick, and meat can be exposed to the bacteria at any time in the production process, from the slaughter to the grinding, notes The New York Times. One wrong slice when removing a dirty cattle hide or intestines can be critical. Ground beef is often processed with ammonia to kill bacteria, but that may not be enough, according to the Times. “…A single portion of hamburger meat is often an amalgam of various grades of meat from different parts of cows and even from different slaughterhouses. These cuts of meat are particularly vulnerable to E. coli contamination,” The New York Times reports. What’s more, there could be a delay between when meat tests positive for harmful bacteria and when the word gets to processing plants and distributors because secondary tests need to be run before a recall is initiated, according to the Food Safety and Inspection Service of the U.S. Department of Agriculture.Photo Credit: Florian
    Contaminated Cookie Dough
  • Contaminated Cookie Dough

    Earlier this year, Nestle announced a recall of tubes and tubs of its ready-to-bake cookie dough on concerns that they could contain E. coli.So how do bacteria from feces end up in cookie dough? “Water or other clear liquid was observed dripping from an overhead line in the liquid egg receiving bay,” according to an inspection report.Additionally, the cookie dough was processed and packaged in a plant that also produced pastas and sauces, though the dough was made in a separate area from the meat, according to the FDA. Extra cookie dough left over from production lines was added back to mixers for new batches, but the FDA didn’t get an answer on how long the dough could hold up.What’s more, inspections by the Food and Drug Administration’s Department of Health and Human Services found that cleaning equipment at the production plant may have been difficult because it was made of “rough, pitted and discolored cast metal alloy.” Plus, during inspections, supervisors refused to submit pest control records, so whether bugs or rodents were responsible for the contamination still appears unclear, according to FDA documents.Photo Credit: Robert S. Donovan
    Putrid Peanuts
  • Putrid Peanuts

    It’s still not completely clear how peanuts at the Peanut Corp. of America plants were contaminated earlier this year, sparking the largest recall in history. Plant inspectors visiting the facilities found dead rodents, feces, feathers and a leaking roof, and “foods can also become contaminated by infected handlers who do not wash their hands with soap after using the bathroom,” notes The Washington Post.Previously, the FDA had visited the company’s Georgia facility due to a shortage of inspectors, The Washington Post reported. The responsibility was passed on to state inspectors, but those inspectors didn’t take samples of the peanut products for testing, the paper said. There was some knowledge of quality problems at Peanut Corp. facilities. Last year, peanuts sent to Canada were returned due to a “filthy, putrid or decomposed substance, or is otherwise unfit for food," according to Bill Marler, an attorney and blogger citing an FDA report. Photo Credit: foodistablog
    Cross-Contaminated Pistachios
  • Cross-Contaminated Pistachios

    “The company, Setton Pistachio of Terra Bella, based in Terra Bella, Calif., decided to recall its 2008 crop after one of its customers, Kraft Foods, found several types of salmonella during routine analysis of the product. Kraft Foods alerted the Food and Drug Administration of its findings on March 24,” The New York Times reported earlier this year.As a result of the contamination, 664 products were recalled, according to the FDA, including snack mixes, cookies and ice cream.Roasting pistachios and other nuts kills any bacteria that might be on them, but contamination can still happen if they’re not properly roasted, or unroasted pistachios came in contact with roasted pistachios. In this case, employees didn’t properly keep the roasted and unroasted nuts separate, according to the Associated Press.Photo Credit: Conor Lawless
    Not-So-Wholesome Milk
  • Not-So-Wholesome Milk

    Drinks, yogurt, oatmeal, chocolate, other candy and other products were recalled this summer on concerns that powdered milk from Plainview Milk Products Cooperative could contain Salmonella. Plainview’s products weren’t sold to the public directly, but were included in 272 different products. Animal products are often among foods that get contaminated, according to the FDA. Salmonella can come from animals and humans. It can be transmitted by eating food containing feces, even in small amounts. That means that food handlers that are infected and don’t wash their hands with soap after using the bathroom can contaminate food. Food that’s contaminated often looks and smells completely normal, according to the FDA. Photo Credit: idovermani
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