Food safety is often a neglected or unpopular topic among food writers. Often people seem to not be terribly interested in food-borne illness and it certainly is not a pleasant event to remember. But there are some considerations to be aware of.
There are two types of food-borne illness – one is food infection and the other is food intoxication. The symptoms of either are gastrointestinal in nature. Most of the time, these disturbances are short-lived but can be severe. Food infection is when the offending bacteria or virus is present in the food and multiply there; the other is when the pathogen produces toxins that become present in the food. Unlike food-borne infections which are usually caused by a ingesting large numbers of pathogens, intoxication can be caused by only a few organisms that have produced a toxin and these toxins may be difficult to destroy even by heating.
One important aspect of some food-borne illnesses is that a few may cause more than a couple of days of miserable symptoms, but can result in longer-term complications like hemolytic uremic syndrome leading to kidney failure, arthritis, Guillian-Barré syndrome, or spontaneous abortion. Some may result in life-long affects.
Another interesting aspect is how bacteria multiply. Every time the population of a bacterial cell divides, it grows exponentially. In other words, if 10 bacteria contaminate a food during preparation and that food sits in a warm car for four hours, the cell can divide every 20 minutes. That means that there will be 40,960 bacteria in the food by the time you eat it. That is why it is best to keep cold food cold below 40 degrees F. and hot food hot – above 140 degrees F. So the rule is 40 – 140 for only a maximum time of two hours.