Intruders in my lunchbox?

Cooking and E. coliZoomZoom (137KB)
© Janice Haney Carr, CDC, PHIL

Article written by Martine Isabelle and published in L'Écho de Laval, August 19, 2010.

Whether meticulously clean or not, lunchboxes are all inhabited by common tenants: microorganisms! I invite you to meet these intruders, invisible to the naked eye, but sometimes harmful to your health and to that of your children.

How are microorganisms able to find their way into a lunchbox? It's very simple; microorganisms are present everywhere in the environment: in water, in soil, and in the air. It is therefore very natural to see them on fruits and vegetables, as well as on meat and other food. Although the vast majority of these tiny beings are harmless, some of them may cause food poisoning, which manifests itself through stomach cramps, diarrhea, nausea, vomiting, fever, and headaches. In other words: no fun! As reported by Ms Danielle Ramsay, provincial coordinator for the MAPAQ: "Each year between 2,000 and 5,000 people in the province of Quebec are reported to the MAPAQ as victims of food poisoning. However, according to the literature, fewer than 5% of cases of diseases related to food consumption are reported to monitoring agencies. Therefore, available data do not reflect reality; this is surely only the tip of the iceberg."

The microorganisms responsible for food poisoning are usually bacteria. There are many different species of bacteria, two of which often make the headlines. This is notably the case of Escherichia coli O157:H7, responsible for hamburger disease, a reminder of the importance of thoroughly cooking food. Think also of Listeria monocytogenes, the bacterium responsible for the crisis in the cheese and processed foods industries in Quebec in 2008. Fortunately, everyone can implement simple measures at home to keep these microscopic beasties away from foods in lunchboxes.

Fortunately, everyone can implement simple measures at home to keep these microscopic beasties away from foods in lunchboxes.