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Food Plant Pathogens

Common Food Plant Pathogens

Bacillus Cereus

Description: A gram-positive aerobic spore former

Typical Source for Contamination: Soil and starchy foods such as rice

Products of Concern: Unrefrigirated cooked foods

Symptoms: A wide variety of foods including meats, milk, vegetables, and fish have been associated with the diarrheal type food poisoning. The vomiting-type outbreaks have generally been associated with rice products; however, other starchy foods such as potato, pasta, and cheese products have also been implicated. Food mixtures such as sauces, puddings, soups, casseroles, pastries, and salads have frequently been incriminated in food poisoning outbreaks.

Complications Possible: Severe systemic and pyogenic infections, gangrene, septic meningitis, cellulitis, panophthalmitis, lung abscesses, infant death, and endocarditis.

Susceptible Populations: All

Campylobacter Jujuni

Description:  A gram-negative bacteria requiring low oxygen levels. This bacteria is the leading cause of bacterial diarrheal illness.

Typical Source for Contamination: Cattle, birds including chickens, flies and environmentally in non-chlorinated water sources.

Products of Concern: Raw chicken, unpasteurized milk.

Symptoms: Diarrhea

Complications Possible: Haemolytic uremic syndrome, internal organ infections

Susceptible Populations: All although children under 5 and young adults between 15 and 29 appear particularly susceptible.

Clostridia Botulinum

Description: A gram-positive anaerobic spore former that produces a neurotoxin. There are 4 strains that cause botulism in humans.

Typical Source for Contamination: Soil, intestinal tracts of fish and animals, shellfish

Products of Concern: improperly canned foods primarily

Symptoms: Lack of energy, weakness, dizziness, double vision, difficulty speaking, swallowing and breathing.

Complications Possible: Paralysis, death

Susceptible Populations: All

Clostridium Perfringens

Description: A gram-positive anaerobic spore former

Typical Source for Contamination: Widely distributed in the environment and may be present in the intestines of humans and animals.

Products of Concern: Meat and meat products

Symptoms: Abdominal cramps and diarrhea.

Complications: Death due to dehydration. Rarely necrotic enteritis.

Susceptible Populations: Children and the elderly.

Escherichia Coli (E Coli)

Description: There are 4 classes of E coli that cause diarrhea in humans. The strain most often of concern in food processing is O157:H7

Typical Source for Contamination: Feces of animals or humans.

Products of Concern: Ground meats, dry-cured meats, and sausages, cheese curds, vegetables, unpasteurized juices.

Symptoms: Severe cramping and diarrhea. Occasionally vomiting.

Complications: Hemolytic uremic syndrome.

Susceptible Populations: Young children and the elderly particularly for potentially fatal complications.

Listeria Monocytogenes

Description: Gram-positive bacteria widely distributed in the environment which can be present in the intestines of humans and animals. Very hardy and can survive freezing and drying. Can multiply at refrigeration temperatures.

Typical Source for Contamination: Environmental

Products of Concern: Ready to eat foods, raw and cooked meats, soft cheeses, raw vegetables.

Symptoms: For most healthy people there are no symptoms and the bacteria causes no ill effects. For the susceptible populations, listeriosis can cause nausea, septicemia, meningitis, uterine or cervical infections in pregnant women, vomiting, diarrhea.

Complications: Stillbirth, death. Mortality rates as high as 70% have been quoted.

Susceptible Populations: Pregnant women, elderly, immunocompromised individuals.


Description: Widespread gram-negative bacteria

Typical Source for Contamination: All animals but particularly pigs and poultry, water, soil, insects, animal feces, raw foods

Products of Concern: Raw meats, eggs, dairy products, seafood, sauces & salad dressings, powdered products, peanut butter, chocolate

Symptoms: Nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, fever, and headache. Chronic consequences are arthritic symptoms.

Complications: Typhoid and typhoid like fevers, arthritis, death.

Susceptible Populations: All but particularly infants, elderly and AIDS patients.


Description: A gram-negative bacteria

Typical Source for Contamination: Human feces

Products of Concern: Salads, raw vegetables, milk, and dairy products, poultry.

Symptoms: Abdominal cramping and pain, diarrhea, fever, vomiting.

Complications: Hemolytic uremic syndrome, arthritis, death.

Susceptible Populations: All but particularly infants and elderly.

Staphylococcus Aureus

Description: A gram-positive bacteria

Typical Source for Contamination: Staphylococci exist in air, dust, sewage, water, milk, and food or on food equipment, environmental surfaces, humans, and animals. Humans and animals are the primary reservoirs

Products of Concern: Meat and meat products; poultry and egg products; salads such as egg, tuna, chicken, potato, and macaroni; bakery products such as cream-filled pastries, cream pies, and chocolate eclairs; sandwich fillings; and milk and dairy products. Foods that require considerable handling during preparation and that are kept at slightly elevated temperatures after preparation are frequently involved in staphylococcal food poisoning.

Symptoms: Nausea, vomiting, and cramping. In severe cases, headache and muscle cramping may occur.

Complications: Rarely, death of the elderly or infants.

Susceptible Populations: All



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