Food can get spoilt or it can turn bad if it is not well- preserved. The common cause of food spoilage is decomposition of food by the action of the enzymes present in it or by the action of some external agents like fungi or bacteria. Consumption of food spoilt in this manner can cause a person to fall ill. This is called food poisoning. Food poisoning is not a disease, but it creates a condition in the body which may make a person indisposed or seriously ill. It may affect some vital organs like the brain, liver, kidney, etc. When food remains exposed at room temperature for quite some time, it may get contaminated by fungi or bacteria. These organisms produce compounds which have harmful effects in the body. These compounds are called toxins. When considerable amount of a toxin is ingested, it is likely to make a man sick. Bacteria and spores of fungi and their products (toxins) can enter the body by other means as well. If the utensils are not properly washed, the hands are not clean, the place where food is cooked and kept is dirty, there are insects, flies and cockroaches around the foodthere is every possibility of food being contaminated by micro-organisms. Once the food is infested, these micro-organisms grow rapidly. They not only spoil and reduce the nutritive value of the food, but also manufacture toxins.
Rats, mice, cockroaches and flies can contaminate food by dropping their excreta on the food. Their limbs and mouth parts also have harmful organisms. Flies carry germs from decaying wastes, excreta, etc., on their feet, hair and other body parts. When they sit on our food, these germs get transferred to our food. Unclean habits of man may also lead to food poisoning. There are bacteria (Staphylococci) in the nose and throat. Some people have the habit of sticking their fingers into the nose. These bacteria may stick to the fingers and get transferred to the food. The bacteria produce a heat-resistant toxin which remains in the cooked food, even though the bacteria get killed. Coughing can also eject a large number of bacteria into the food.
Sick farm animals carry Salmonella bacteria, which may be present in milk, egg and meat. When these are taken in raw form, Salmonella enter the intestine where they grow and multiply. Their presence in the intestine causes nausea, vomiting, diarrhea and abdominal pain.
Canned food may also be a source of food poisoning. There is a type of bacterium called Clostrldium botulinum which is usually found in tinned and canned food. This bacterium grows anaerobically (without oxygen) and produces toxins. When such canned food is taken, the toxins cause food poisoning known as botulism. When the canned food infected with Clostridiwn botulinum is heated to 100C for a few minutes, these bacteria are destroyed. Canning factories use this method to kill these bacteria. Botulism is not common but it can be dangerous. Infection of a fungus, Aspergillus in the grains such as wheat, rice, maize and gram and nuts, and vegetables is also a source of food poisoning. Aspergillus grows most commonly on moist ground-nuts. Aspergillus produces a toxin called aflatoxin, which damages the liver.
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