Microbiology: preventing food related illness

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  1. As meat product, it is prone to contain bacteria that we are not aware of, such as Salmonella and Escherichia coli (E. Coli O157). They are bacteria which are normally found in poultry product, usually in raw meat.

Below table contains information on both Salmonella and E.coli O157. (Richard Lawley, 2013), (Food Safety.gov, 2015)


E. Coli O157

  • It is a bacterium which causes gastrointestinal infection.
  • Gram negative bacterium.
  • Symptoms of this infection are diarrhea, vomiting, fever and abdominal pain.
  • These symptoms can last for 4-7 days and it can be spread from person to person.
  • Usually found in poultry meat, such as beef, pork, eggs and unpasteurised milk which are not handled or refrigerated in a safe way.
  • It is a type of bacteria which lives in human and animal intestinal tract. Mostly which are not harmful but some can cause you fall ill.
  • Symptoms of these infections are diarrhea, vomiting, fever and abdominal cramps.
  • These symptoms can last for 5-10 days.
  • Usually can be found is uncooked beef, raw milk, vegetables (such as sprouts).

The ways to protect from getting these bacteria infecting is to practice proper hygiene while handling the meat. The way the meat is being cook is also important as raw meat which are not cooked well can cause diarrhea to occur in humans. After cooking the meat, separate the cooked meat with the raw meat and vegetables. Wash hands before eating and carry a sanitizer along.

As herbs and spices are being used for marinating the meat, it can also bring additional microbiological hazards which contain bacteria such as Bacillus and spore forming organisms which can cause toxins to the body while consuming the food items.

There are 2 types of spore forming bacteria which are commonly found in meat.

  1. Bacillus

Bacillus is a spore forming bacteria which can grow in either temperature of 35 (mesophiles) degree Celsius or 55 degree Celsius (thermophiles). (Dr. M.A Cousin, 1989 ). It can withstand heat and cause it to become hydrated hence making it can survive from high temperature while cooking and stored at as dry products. But once it reaches a certain temperature which is considered as the danger zone, the spores will starts to germinate that can cause the bacteria to grow, produce toxins that can harm people and make them fall ill. To prevent this to happen, food has to be stored separately. For example, cooked food is hot and raw food is cold. Hence separating them to different compartment of the fridge will prevent these bacteria from growing in food.

  1. Clostridium

Another common type of spore containing bacteria is the Clostridium. These bacteria can usually grow in various temperatures and can be considered as both mesophiles and thermophiles. (Natasha Gilani, 2004) It can found in the intestine of animals and humans. Food are being heated and cooked so that these bacteria are meant to be inactive and injure them. It also affects the process of activation, germination and outgrowth of the spores due to the heat. The spores can only be active once the injury has recovered.

Another issue that she can take note of will be the requirements of the food safety system such as the HACCP (Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Point). This system helps to address the issue on how the food is being controlled from physical, chemical and biological hazards while handling, preparing of the product, manufacturing, distributing to various places and ensure that the food is being safe to eat as a finished product. (NATIONAL ADVISORY COMMITTEE, 1997)

  1. She would be required to give product details, as to where the meat was right from where the last process of distribution to various places up till when it was given for human consumption. She would also be needed to provide information on how the cow was slaughtered, chilled, packaged and handled. This is to ensure that the product is safe for consumption and could be sold. Details of safe hygiene procedures would also be noted. This information is needed to show that precautions were taken prior to further processing of the meat. Storage of raw meat has be kept in a control temperature and maintained at 4oc. (Darlene Christensen, 2009) This is done to prevent further growth of bacteria in the meat.

Marinating should always be done in a cold environment, and this is done as a precautionary measure to prevent further growth of bacteria in room temperature. Marinating of steaks could be anywhere from 2 to 24 hours, and no longer than that. (U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, 2004-2014)After which the meat has to be packed in a sealed bags to prevent further growth of microbial organisms. This is because oxygen increases the chances of spoilage caused by bacteria. Hence, vacuum packing of food products helps overcoming the effects of oxygen by removing oxygen and replacing it with other gases such as nitrogen or carbon dioxide.

Gentle heat is used to dry the meat. The meat has to be heated up at 70oc before undergoing the hydrating process to make sure that it destroys any bacteria present on the meat. (United States Department of Agriculture, 2013) She has to also consider on the way the meat is being packed before and distribution by the place she has purchased the meat from. There are various ways of packing the meat. One of the ways to pack the meat will be vacuum packing. By vacuum packaging, the oxygen that is found in the surrounding helps to avoid food from getting spoiled. (USDA Meat and Poultry, 1997) Vacuum packaging also prevents food from turning moldy. Packaging plays a big role in keeping the food safe for consumption, and can be kept for a longer period of time.

However, being hygiene will be the most important first step to be taken. These measures such as washing the knives used to cut the meat, using clean chopping boards and hand washing frequently has to be taken during the time where the meat is being cut till sending it for packaging. (NATIONS, FOOD AND AGRICULTURE ORGANIZATION OF THE UNITED, 1990)

Another factor that can be considered for this product would be the water activity. It tells which micro-organisms will start to germinate in food. They have a certain amount of water level which will help the organisms to grow in food. It is an important factor as it determines the moisture level in food which causes food spoilage. (Decagon Devices, 2006)

Table below shows some of the water activity of micro organisms in food. (D. Yordanov & G. Angelova, 2014)

Micro organisms

Water activity

Escherichia coli


Staphylococcus aureus


Lastly, traceability is very important when it comes to any product. Since she is intending to sell beef products, she has to know where the beef is from, how is it cut and packaged and also how will she able to identify that the cow is from that particular company and such.

Some of the examples of identification of cows;

  1. Number tags on the ear loops
  2. Database which is computerized
  3. Bar codes that can be scanned which are usually paste on the packaging of the meat

Information on the breed, sex and age of the animal should be given. This information should be given in order to prevent any spread of diseases, as well as for food safety. (Agriculture and Consumer Protection Department, 2014)

  1. There are various tests that can be done for when a food sample is been sent for testing. Many micro-organisms are easily found in food which may be harmful and not harmful to our body. Certain micro-organisms are present low in the foods and when consumed, it does not harm the body. Examples of such food are cheese and yogurt which contains good micro-organisms. (Food Standards Australia New Zealand , 2001)

Below table shows the tests done for food which goes for testing in the food laboratory. (NSW Food Authority, 2009)



  1. Standard plate count

Gives general indication of the quality of the food. It can indicate if the food has been prepared in not hygiene manner or was not stored in a proper storage area. While doing this test, the ingredients and how the food was processed have to be considered carefully. A series of results overtime will provide with a better understanding and better results.

  1. Indicator organisms (E.Coli)
  2. Pathogens ( Salmonella)

E.coli and Salmonella are found in intestinal tract of humans and animals. By this evidence found on ready to eat meals, it will showcase on the poor hygiene and not enough of heat treatment given to the food before distributing it for sale. It can also due to handling of the food poorly, cross contamination and not cooking the raw meat well.

After testing out on the samples of food, it has to meet the requirements of microbiological safety for ready to eat food items. The ready-to-eat food are categories into 4 groups; good, acceptable, unsatisfactory and potentially hazardous. Good and acceptable are considered within the good range and doesn’t need any further testing or safety action taken. While for unsatisfactory and potentially hazardous is considered fail and action needs to be taken immediately as the micro organisms are above the safety level and will cause harm for people whom consume the ready-to-eat food. (NSW Food Authority, 2009)