They settle on meat, fish, eggs, lettuce and are an invisible danger: germs in food can – depending on the type and quantity – make you ill and can even be life-threatening. We present the most common pathogens and give tips on how to protect yourself from infections.
- Escherichia (E.) coli
- Ehec (enterohemorrhagic E. coli)
- Antibiotic-resistant germs
- Mold toxins
- Bacillus cereus
- Staphylococcus aureus
- How to keep germs at bay
Poultry meat is often contaminated with Campyl-obacter. © Getty Images / Slawomir Fajer
How the germs get into food. Campyl-obacter is the most common cause of bacterial food infections: The Robert Koch Institute (RKI) registered about 62,000 cases of illness related to the germ in 2019. It colonizes the intestines of animals, especially poultry. It often gets onto meat in slaughterhouses. According to the Federal Office of Consumer Protection and Food Safety, Campyl-obacter bacteria were detectable in almost every second sample of fresh chicken meat in 2019. In our test of chicken thighs we found them in 13 of 17 products. In addition to raw or insufficiently heated meat, unpasteurized milk (raw milk) also causes repeated outbreaks of illness in Germany. Just a few pathogens are enough for an infection. They can also be transmitted by contact with an infected animal and also by humans.
These are the consequences of infection. Campyl-obacter can trigger gastrointestinal infections with diarrhea, abdominal pain and fever. Usually the complaints are over after few days. However, young children, pregnant women, the sick and the elderly have a higher risk of severe disease progression. In rare cases, the bacterium causes joint inflammation and Guillain-Barre syndrome – a nerve disease associated with paralysis.
Symptoms. Typically, muscle and head pain with fever, followed by diarrhea, vomiting and severe abdominal pain. These symptoms can occur immediately after consumption, but also after about 8 days. Children under 5 years of age and young adults between 20 and 29 years of age are particularly frequently affected by the disease in Germany. Especially in the warm season there is an increased incidence of infections. If you suspect a Campyl-obacter infection, you should go to the doctor immediately.
How to protect yourself. Heat, and thus the thorough cooking of a dish, kills the pathogen. The Federal Office for Consumer Protection and Food Safety (BVL) therefore advises that poultry meat should only be eaten well-cooked. Hygiene in the kitchen is also important. A video from the German Federal Institute for Risk Assessment (BfR) shows how to prepare chicken hygienically. Fresh chicken meat should not be washed off: Splashing water increases the risk of spreading any germs that may be present in the kitchen. Risk groups such as small children, immunocompromised people and pregnant women should avoid raw meat and unpasteurized dairy products, such as raw milk cheese.
Heat through properly: 70 degrees Celsius for two minutes
Salmonella is predominantly found on the shell of eggs. © Getty Images / FabrikaCr
This is how germs get into food. Salmonella belongs to the enterobacteria family and colonizes the intestines of animals, especially pigs and chickens. They can contaminate eggshells via excretions and also pork and chicken meat during meat processing. The testers of Stiftung Warentest have already detected salmonella in fresh chicken thighs and minced meat, among other things. The pathogens survive sub-zero temperatures, which is why they can be found in the thawing water of frozen poultry and other meat.
These are the consequences of an infection. An infection with the bacteria can cause several days of diarrhea, headaches, fever and vomiting. In babies, small children and elderly people, severe courses are also possible, which in the worst case can lead to death. Salmonella is one of the main causes of foodborne infections, according to the German Federal Institute for Risk Assessment (BfR).
How to protect yourself. Thaw frozen food unpacked in a covered bowl in the refrigerator. Pour the dew water into the sink and rinse with hot water. Small children, sick and very old people should only eat fully heated egg dishes. For dishes containing raw eggs, such as tiramisu or homemade mayonnaise, use only fresh, undamaged eggs, refrigerate them quickly and, if possible, eat them immediately. Kitchen utensils and work surfaces should be cleaned immediately with hot water and detergent after contact with raw egg, raw meat and dew water. Wash hands thoroughly.
Watch out during the Easter season: Do not let children blow out raw eggs with their mouths. Wash the eggs well before painting them.