Published On: Mon, Aug 28th, 2017

The Horrible, Yet Underdiscussed, Issue Of Food Poisoning

The Horrible, Yet Underdiscussed, Issue Of Food Poisoning


If a terrorist group was causing thousands of Americans to die every year, it would be on the news 24-hours a day, seven days a week. The president would be holding daily emergency meetings with chiefs of staff, and the whole country would be mobilized to protect against the threat.

But when it comes to food poisoning – something which actually does kill upwards of 50,000 Americans every year – little is said, besides the fact that it’s a “tragedy.”

One of the biggest problems faced right now is a particularly nasty little bug called clostridium difficile. This bug infects upwards of a quarter million Americans every year and kills thousands of them, incurring billions in health costs as a result.,

In the past, doctors would have just used antibiotics to treat the infection, but today, thanks to resistant strains, that’s becoming less and less possible. In many cases, the disease is so severe that surgeons ultimately wind up having to remove people’s colons entirely, just to keep them alive.

It has long been maintained that the majority of cases of C. difficile in the US were due to people coming into contact with those already infected in hospitals. But today there is mounting evidence that the vast majority – upwards of 75 percent – of all infections are the result of contact with contaminated food.

Recently, scientists publishing in the New England Journal of Medicine found that around 15 percent of all chicken packets sold in supermarkets contained the bug. And what was more, it didn’t seem to matter who sold the chicken – all suppliers were equally culpable.

When it comes to C. difficile, however, the primary concern has to with a variety of the bug originating in pork. Pigs have been contracting the disease in increasing numbers for a number of reasons, including increased resistance to antibiotics. And, as a result, the disease has been spreading throughout the pork industry, both in the US and elsewhere. Levels of cross contamination in the US appear to be unusually high because of the country’s farming practices.

In the US, baby piglets are raised in metal cages called farrowing crates. These containers create a safe area for the piglets to suckle on their mothers during weaning before they are removed and raised as meat hogs. As you can probably imagine, farrowing crates aren’t the most hygienic of environments. The feces of the mother can often get all over the piglets, and if she’s infected with C. difficile, there’s a good chance that they will be too.

The Horrible, Yet Underdiscussed, Issue Of Food Poisoning

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Once the pigs are grown and sent to the slaughterhouse, these bacteria enter the food supply. Although precautions are taken to prevent this, spillage of the contents of the intestines in slaughterhouses is a real issue and one that is difficult to prevent. Bacteria often survive the slaughterhouse process and wind up in plastic packets on supermarket shelves.


  1. Difficile Resistant To Heat

Most people think that if they cook pork or chicken well enough, then they remove the threat to their health. But the latest evidence says that C. difficile are resistant to heat up to 63 degrees – the USDA’s minimum threshold for safely cooking meat. As a result, contaminated food products get into the food supply, even from reputable processed food producers following guidelines to the letter, and cause people to get sick.


Not All Food Poisoning Is Acute

The personal costs of food poisoning are enormous. You can find out more from Robins Cloud on it, but suffice to say that thousands of people suffer damages every year and seek restitution. Although the majority of food poisoning is acute – that is, the period of infection is short – other types of poisoning can have effects which last for years.

Take ciguatera for example. Ciguatera occurs following the consumption of fish contaminated with neurotoxins made by a class of particularly unpleasant algae. Worse still, these neurotoxins are resistant to heat, meaning that no matter how well you cook your fish, you can still end up poisoned.


When most people think about the symptoms of food poisoning, they think about gastrointestinal problems. But ciguatera causes sufferers to experience all manner of bizarre neurological side-effect, including nightmare. In additional, sufferers may get hallucinations, depression and a lack of coordination.

What’s worse, once infected with the toxin, the symptoms can go on for years, affecting a person’s work and their relationships with others. In fact, the symptoms are so usual that some researchers have argued that what is commonly diagnosed as chronic fatigue syndrome may actually be ciguatera poisoning.


Ciguatera isn’t a rare disease by any stretch of the imagination. According to recent estimates, it affects more than 15,000 people every year.

Can anything be done to prevent it? According to the American Heart Association, the only way to prevent it is to avoid fish that live near the poisonous algae altogether. That would mean cutting out grouper and red snapper entirely.

If you’re worried about your fish, you can always trial it on your pets first, according to researchers. If you feed a cat potentially contaminated fish and then wait for a few hours, you can observe whether or not the cat gets sick. This practice has been deemed inhumane by others, though carrying out a live experiment on your family might be worse.


Why Food Poisoning Isn’t At The Top Of The Agenda

This brings us to the question of why food poisoning isn’t at the top of the public health agenda. The reason has to do with special interest, as is so often the case. The meat industry doesn’t want any unwanted attention on its products which it claims are the safest in the world.

High levels of scrutiny tend to reduce consumer confidence and eat into profits, and so the industry heavily lobbies the USDA to protect it – the same agency which is supposed to protect consumers. Ultimately, the message never gets out that the food industry itself is responsible for the majority of poisonings in America, not people who neglect to adequately cook their own meat. The only way to reduce one’s risk appears to be to shirk meat altogether or to buy factory-produced or plant-based alternatives.