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Foodborne Zoonotic Disease

 

 

Red meat can be a source of several foodborne zoonotic diseases (also known as foodborne illnesses), which are infections transmitted from food-producing animals to humans. They enter the body through the gastrointestinal tract where the first symptoms often occur. Many of these micro-organisms are commonly found in the intestines of healthy food-producing animals. These diseases can range from mild to life-threatening and are typically caused by bacteria, viruses, parasites, and allergens that contaminate the meat during various stages of production, processing, transportation, and food preparation.

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Source: FoodSafety.gov

The World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that almost 600 million people—almost 1 in 10 of us—fall ill each year from consuming contaminated food. There are approximately 420,000 deaths annually, and 30% of these are children under 5 years of age.

 

 

Report Food Poisoning

If you think you or someone you know became sick from food, please report it to your local health department. Report it even if you do not know what food made you or someone you know sick. Reporting an illness can help public health officials identify a foodborne disease outbreak and keep others from getting sick.

Five Signs of Severe Food Poisoning

Do you have any of these symptoms? ​If so, see a doctor!

  • Vomiting so often you cannot keep liquids down

  • Bloody diarrhea

  • Dehydration

  • Fever higher than 102 degrees Fahrenheit

  • Diarrhea for more than 3 days

 

 

 

Bacterial Infections

 

Several bacterial pathogens are commonly associated with red meat and can cause foodborne illnesses, including:

  • Escherichia coli (E. coli): E. coli is a common bacterium found in the gut of humans and warm-blooded animals. While most strains are harmless, some, such as Shiga toxin-producing E. coli (STEC), can cause severe foodborne disease. E. coli is transmitted to humans primarily through consumption of food contaminated with human or animal feces. Raw or undercooked ground meat products such as beef are often a culprit. Globally, the incidence of E. coli infections is estimated to be 2.8 million cases per year. It often leads to bloody diarrhea, and occasionally to kidney failure.

  • Salmonella: Salmonella is a bacteria that commonly causes foodborne illness. It can be found in various foods, including undercooked or contaminated beef, pork, and lamb. Salmonella causes diarrhea, fever, abdominal cramps, nausea, and vomiting. Globally, there are  approximately 150 million Salmonella  illnesses annually.

  • Listeria monocytogenes: Listeria monocytogenes is a pathogen that can contaminate various foods, including beef and pork. It has serious public health implications, particularly for pregnant women, newborns, adults aged 65 or older, and people with weakened immune systems. It causes fever, muscle aches, nausea, and diarrhea. Fortunately, infection with this organism is relatively rare, ranging from 0.1 to 10 cases per 1 million people per year depending on the countries and regions of the world.

  • Campylobacter: Campylobacter is one of the most common causes of diarrheal illness. This bacterium can be found in the intestines, liver, and other organs of animals, including cows, and can be transferred to other edible parts when an animal is slaughtered. Symptoms for humans typically include diarrhea (often bloody), fever, stomach cramps, nausea, vomiting, and sometimes irritable bowel syndrome, temporary paralysis, and arthritis. In 2010, it was estimated that Campylobacter caused approximately 96 million cases globally.

 

 

Viral Infections

Important viral diseases linked to red meat include:

  • Hepatitis A: Hepatitis A virus (HAV) is a highly contagious liver infection primarily transmitted through the fecal-oral route, often from consuming contaminated food or water. Red meat is often the contaminated source. It causes inflammation of the liver, leading to symptoms such as fatigue, nausea, abdominal pain, loss of appetite, and jaundice. The World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that worldwide there are 1.5 million cases of HAV infections annually.

  • Norovirus: Norovirus is a highly contagious virus that can be transmitted through various routes, including contaminated food. Red meat, such as beef and deli meats, has been implicated in several studies as a potential source of norovirus outbreaks. The virus causes inflammation of the stomach or intestines, leading to stomach pain, nausea, and diarrhea. Globally, norovirus is estimated to cause approximately 685 million infections annually, with about 200 million cases among children under 5 years old.

 

 

Parasitic Infections

Important parasitic diseases linked to red meat include:

  • Taeniasis: Taeniasis is a parasitic infection caused by Taenia saginata (beef tapeworm) and Taenia solium (pork tapeworm). Humans can become infected with these tapeworms by eating raw or undercooked beef or pork. Symptoms of taeniasis can be mild or nonexistent, but in some cases, it can cause digestive symptoms such as discomfort, nausea, flatulence, diarrhea, or hunger pains. There are not many documented cases of Taeniasis due to it being asymptomatic. However, looking at Taenia solium in particular, the World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that the total number of people suffering from neurocysticercosis, a severe form of the disease,is between 2.56–8.30 million worldwide. This includes both including symptomatic and asymptomatic cases.

  • Toxoplasmosis: Toxoplasmosis is a disease caused by the parasite Toxoplasma gondii, which can be found in raw or undercooked red meat, particularly beef, lamb, pork, and venison. It usually causes mild flu-like illness in those with a competent immune system. However, toxoplasmosis can be dangerous for pregnant women and immunocompromised patients. In the U.S., approximately 11% of people have been infected, while in some areas of the world the figure is more than 60%. Few people have symptoms because the immune system usually keeps the parasite from causing illness.

 

 

Allergic Reactions

  • Alpha-gal syndrome (AGS): AGS, also known as alpha-gal allergy, red meat allergy, or tick bite meat allergy, is a serious, potentially life-threatening allergic reaction to the alpha-gal sugar molecule found in red meats and their products. AGS can cause hives, stomach pain, diarrhea, headache, and potentially life-threatening anaphylaxis. The condition usually begins with the bite of the Lone Star tick, which transfers the alpha-gal molecule into the body, triggering an immune response. Between 2010 and 2022, more than 110,000 suspected cases of AGS were identified. However, the actual number of cases may be much higher, as AGS is not nationally notifiable to the CDC, and many healthcare providers are not aware of the syndrome. Therefore, it is estimated that as many as 450,000 Americans may be living with AGS.

 

 

For more information regarding foodborne zoonotic diseases from red meat––including the type of infection, name of infection, common name of illness, onset time, signs and symptoms, illness duration, and food sources––review the chart below:

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The sources for the information on this page can be found here.

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